Saxe Holm's Stories, Second Series/My Tourmaline
I had arrived, late one November afternoon, at a wretched little tavern in a small village in Maine. I was very unhappy. It was of no consequence to me that I was young; it was of no consequence to me that I had superb health. I was very unhappy. How compassionately middle age smiles, looking back upon the miseries of its healthy youth! How gladly to-day would I be sent away in disgrace from college, to rusticate for six months in a country parson's house, if I could feel the warm, strong blood bound in my veins, as it bounded that night when I jumped from the top of the stage to the ground under the ugly, creaking sign of that village tavern.
It was a dismal afternoon. A warm rain was slowly filtering down through the elm-trees with which the street was too thickly shaded. The ground was sprinkled with golden-yellow leaves, and little pools of muddy water filled every foot-print on the grass-grown sidewalk. A few inert and dispirited men lounged on the tavern steps with that look of fossilized idleness which is peculiar to rural New England. In other countries, idlers look as if they were idling because they liked it; or perhaps because illness or lack of employment had forced, them to idle; but the New England idler, on the steps of his native tavern, or by the stove of his native "store," looks as if he had been there since the prehistoric ages, and had no more volition or interest in his situation than a pterodactyl five hundred feet under ground.
Spite of the rain, I had persisted in riding on the outside of the stage. I took a perverse pleasure in being wet through, and chilled to the marrow. I remember I even thought that I hoped I should take cold and have a rheumatic fever, so that the President might see what had come of sending a fellow down into Maine to spend a winter. Jim Ordway, my chum, had been rusticated with me. His offense was simply calling the President an "inhuman old fool" to his face, on hearing of my sentence of rustication. Jim was a warm-hearted fellow. I have always wondered I did not love him better. He was snug and warm inside the coach, and had been exasperating me all day by breaking out into snatches of the old college songs. For the last hour he had been quiet, and when I sprang down from the top of the coach, and called loudly to him, "Come, jump out, old fellow! Here we are, and an infernal hole it as to be sure, "I was half paralyzed with astonishment at hearing him reply in a whisper, "Be quiet, Will! She 's asleep." Slowly and carefully he came down the coach steps, holding in his arms a limp and shapeless bundle, from which hung down two thin, little gray legs, with feet much too big for them, and made bigger still by clumsy shoes.
"Good heavens, Jim," I exclaimed, "what is it? where did you pick her up?" I added, for I saw tangled yellow curls straggling over his arm from the folds of the old plaid shawl in which the poor little thing was rolled.
"Hush, hush! Look after him, will you?" he said, nodding his head toward a man who sat in the corner of the coach, and made no motion to get out. The driver took hold of him roughly and shook him. He swayed helplessly to and fro, but did not speak nor open his eyes; horrible fumes of rum came from his wide-open mouth. He was drunk and asleep. We carried him into the house as if he had been a log, and laid him on a buffalo-robe on the floor in the corner of the office. The loungers turned their slow dull eyes on him. One said:—
"Drunk, ain't he?" with a slight emphasis of surprise on the verb.
"Wall, yes, I sh'd say he wus," replied a second, the least talkative of the group, also conveying his sense of the unusualness of the incident by emphasizing the final verb of his sentence; and then the group returned to their vacant contemplations.
No such indifference was shown in the parlor, where Jim had carried the little girl, and, leaving her on the grim hair-cloth sofa, had summoned the landlady to care for her.
"The poor little creatur! Now, I never! Ain't she jes' skin an bone," ejaculated the kind-hearted woman, as she bustled about, with pillows and shawls "and, good gracious! I do declare, ef her feet ain't jest as stun cold as ef she wus dead," she cried out, beginning to rub them so energetically that the poor little waif shrank and screamed, even in her sleep, and presently opened her eyes—the most beautiful and most terrified eyes I ever saw, hazel brown, large, deep-set, with depths of appeal in their lightest glance.
"Where is my father?" she said, beginning to cry.
"Don't cry, dear. Your father is asleep in the other room. I 'll take care of you," said Jim, trying in his awkward boy fashion to stroke her head.
She looked up at him gratefully. "Oh, you 're the kind gentleman that picked me up in the stage," and she shut her eyes contentedly and was asleep again in a moment.
It seemed that she and her father had taken the stage some ten miles back. I had been too absorbed in my own dismal reflections to notice them, the man was almost unconscious from the effects of liquor when he got into the stage, and had placed the child so carelessly on the seat, that at the first motion of the wheels she had fallen to the floor. Jim had picked her up, and held her in his lap the rest of the way. It was pathetic to see how he had already adopted her as his special charge. He was an impulsive and chivalrous boy, with any amount of unmanageable sentimentalism in him.
"I say, Will," he exclaimed, as soon as the landlady had left the room, "I say! That man out yonder will kill this child some day. He is a brute. She trembles if he looks at her. I wonder if we could n't keep her—hide her away somehow. He 'd never know where he lost her. He did n't know he lifted her into the stage. I 'd just like to adopt her for my sister. I 've got plenty of money for two, you know, and it would be jolly having the little thing down here this winter."
"Oh, bother!" said I. "It 's lucky you 've got a guardian, Jim Ordway, I know that much. You can't adopt any girls for five years to come; that 's one comfort. Come along; let 's see if there 's anything to eat in this hole. She 'll sleep well enough without your watching her."
But Jim would not stir. He sat watching the tiny, sleeping face, with an abstracted look, unusual to him. He did not even resent my cavalier treatment of his project. He was too much in earnest about it.
"No, no; I sha'n't leave her here alone," he said, in reply to my reiterated entreaties to him to come to the dining-room. "If she wakes up and finds herself alone, she will be frightened. And you can see, by her face, that she has cried herself almost sick already."
It was true. There were deep circles, swollen and dark, around the eyes, and a drawn look about the mouth, pitiful to see on such a little face. She could not have been more than eleven years old, but the grief was written in lines such as might have been written on the face of a woman.
On my way to the dining-room I passed through the office, and looked at the drunken man, still in his heavy sleep, lying where we had laid him on the floor, like the brute he was. It was indeed a bad face—bad originally, and made more hideous still by the unmistakable record of a long life of vile passions. I shuddered to think of that child's pleading hazel eyes lifted up in terror to this evil countenance, and I no longer wondered at Jim's sudden and chivalrous desire to rescue the little one by almost any means. But her rescue was already planned and nearer at hand than we could have dreamed. Only a few moments after I had taken my seat at the supper-table, I heard excited voices in the office, the quick trampling of feet, and then a pistol-shot. I sprang up, and reached the door just in time to see the drunken man's body fall heavily on the floor, while the blood spouted from a bullet-hole in his throat, and the men who had been grappling with him staggered back on all sides with terror-stricken faces. In a second, however, they gathered round him again, and lifting him up, tried to stay the blood. It was too late; he was dying; a few inarticulate gasps, a dim look of consciousness and fear in the blood-shot eyes, and he was gone.
Loud and confused talk filled the room men crowded in from the outside; pale and agitated, in the doorway, stood Jim, his eyes fixed on the dead man's face. "Will," he whispered, as I pressed closer to him, "I feel just like a murderer. Do you know that just before that pistol went off, I was saying to myself that I wished the man were dead, and I believed it would be a good deed to shoot him! Oh God, it is awful!" and Jim shuddered almost hysterically. In the excitement, everybody, even Jim, forgot the little girl. Presently, I felt my coat pulled by a timid touch. I turned. There, to my horror, stood the child. Her brown eyes were lifted with their ineffable appeal, not to my face, but to Jim, who stood just beyond me, and many inches taller; she had touched me only as the sole means of reaching him.
"Kind gentleman," she began. Before I could speak, Jim leaped past me, caught her in his arms, folded her on his breast as if she had been a baby, and carried her back into the parlor. She was beginning to cry with vague terror. Jim was too overwrought himself to soothe her.
"Where is my father," she said. "Has he left me?"
Jim looked at me hopelessly.
"Why," said I, "does he often leave you?"
"Yes, sir, sometimes," she said, in a matter-of-fact tone, which was pitiful in its unconscious revelation of the truth.
"What do you do when he leaves you, dear?" said Jim, tenderly as a woman.
"A boy that lived in the room under our room took care of me the last time. He was very good, but he was away all day," replied the waif.
"Well, I 'm the boy that 'll take care of you, this time," said Jim; "if he leaves you here, I 'll take first-rate care of you."
A queer little wintry smile stole over the pinched face.
"But you 're not a boy. You 're a big gentleman—the kindest gentleman I ever saw," she added in a lower tone, and nestled her head on Jim's neck. "I like you."
Jim looked at me proudly, but with tears in his eyes.
"Did n't I tell you you never saw anything like it?" he said; then, turning to the child, he looked very earnestly in her face, saying,—
"If you think I 'm a kind gentleman, and will take good care of you, will you mind me?"
"Yes, sir, I will," she replied, with the whole strength of her childish little voice thrown on the "will."
"Very well. My friend and I want to go into the other room for a few minutes. I want you to promise to lie still on this sofa and not stir till I come back. Will you?"
"Yes, sir, I will," again with all her strength on the "will."
Jim stooped over and kissed her forehead.
"You know, I shall come back in a few minutes," he said.
"Yes, sir, I do;" and she looked up at Jim with an expression of trust which was as much too old for the little face as were the lines about the mouth. Both were born of past suffering. As we went towards the door, the brown eyes followed us wistfully, but she did not speak.
As soon as we had closed the door, Jim took both my hands in his and exclaimed:—
"Now, Will, don't you see, I 've got to take her! It 's a clear Providence from beginning to end; and if you don't help me through with it, I 'll cut loose from you, and college may go to the devil. I 've got five hundred dollars here with me, and that to these country folks is a fortune; they 'll be glad enough to have me take her off their hands."
"But, Jim," I interrupted, "you talk like a crazy man. You don't know that she is on their hands, as you call it. There may be twenty relations here to the funeral before to-morrow, for all you know. The man may have lived in the very next town."
"No, no, I know all about them," said Jim. "I mean," he added shamefacedly, "I know they did n't live anywhere near here. They 're English. You might have known it by the sweet tones of her poor little feeble voice. They have only just come from the ship; she told me so; and her mother is dead; she told me that too."
We were interrupted by the appearance of the landlord, who came hurrying out of the office, his face red with excitement, which was part horror and part a pleasurable sense of importance in having his house the scene of the most startling event which had happened in the village for a half century.
"Oh!" he said, "I was jest a lookin' for you; we thought mebbe ye knowed suthin' about the miserable critter, as ye come in the stage with him."
"All I know," said Jim, "I know from the little girl. The man was nearly dead drunk when they got into the stage. They are English, and have only just come to this country. She has no brothers and sisters, and her mother is dead. He was a cruel, inhuman brute, and it is a mercy he is dead. And I am going to take the little girl. I am an orphan myself, but I have friends who will care for her."
The landlord s light-blue eyes opened wider and wider at each word of Jim's last sentences. A boy, eighteen, who proposed to adopt a little girl of eleven, had never before crossed Caleb Bunker's path.
"Ye don't say so! Be ye—be ye rich, in yer—yer—own right?" he stammered, curiosity and surprise centring together on the one-sided view which the average New England mind would naturally take of this phenomenal philanthropy. "I expect ye be, though, and uncommonly free-handed, too, or else ye would n't think o' plaguin' yerself with a child, at your time o' life," and the inquisitive eyes scanned Jim's tall but boyish figure from head to foot.
"You 're a professor, I reckon," he added in a half earnest, half satirical tone.
Jim looked utterly bewildered. He had never heard the phrase, "a professor," except at college, and was about to disclaim the honor in language most inexpediently emphatic, when I interposed.
"No; neither my friend nor I have yet made a profession of religion, Mr. Bunker. We have come to study with Parson Allen this winter, and"—I had a vague intention of closing my sentence with a diplomatic intimation that we hoped to be spiritually as well as intellectually benefited by Parson Allen's teachings; but Mr. Bunker interrupted me in tones most unflatteringly changed.
"So, ho! You 're them two young college chaps, be ye? We 've heerd considerable about ye; the parson was over a lookin' for ye, last night."
"Yes, Mr. Bunker," interposed Jim with great dignity, which, although it simply amused me, was not without its effect on Mr. Bunker: "we are the young college chaps; and if we had behaved wisely at college, we should n't be here to-day, as you evidently know. But we are going to study hard with the parson, and go back all right in the spring. And about this little girl, I am entirely in earnest, in wishing to take care of her. Parson Allen will advise me as to the best way of doing it. In the meantime, perhaps your wife will be so kind as to get some clothes for her; the poor little thing is very ragged. Will this be enough, do you think, to get what she needs at present?" and Jim quietly put a hundred dollar bill in Mr. Bunker's hands. Its effect was ludicrous. Not very often had Caleb Bunker even handled a hundred dollar bill, and the idea of such a sum being spent at once on the clothing of a child stunned him. He fingered the bill helplessly for a second or two, saying "Wall—wall, reelly—naow—Mr.—I beg yer pardon, sir,—don'no 's I heered yer name yit."
"Ordway," interrupted Jim. "My name is Ordway."
"Wall, Mr. Ordway, reelly—reelly—I 'll speak to Mis' Bunker;" and the bewildered Caleb disappeared, totally forgetting in his astonishment at Jim's munificence, that the dead man still lay uncared for on the office floor.
"Will," said Jim, "you go in there, and tell those men I 've taken the child. I don't want them coming near her. And if there 's any trouble about burying that brute, I 'll just pay for it. I expect, by the way the man glared at that bill, they 're an awfully poor lot up here. No, no, I can't go in," he exclaimed, as I tried to persuade him to go with me. "I don't want to see that infernal face again. I won't forget it now as long as I live. I am thankful I did n't kick him out of the coach. I came near doing it a hundred times. You just manage it all for me, that 's a dear fellow. I 'm going back to the child."
The story of the hundred dollar bill had evidently reached the bar-room before I did. As I entered, the hum of excited conversation was succeeded by a sudden and awkward silence, and I was greeted with a respectfulness whose secret cause I very well knew. The dead body had been carried to an upper room, and the arrangements for the inquest were under discussion. There was no disagreement among the witnesses of the death. The landlord had ordered the hostler and the stable boy to carry the drunken man to a room. On being lifted, he had roused from his sleep, and with a frightful volley of oaths had demanded to be let alone. As they persevered in the attempt to lift him he had drawn the revolver from his pocket, aimed it at random, and tried to fire. In the scuffle, it fell from his hand, went off, and the bullet had passed through his neck, making a ghastly wound, and killing him almost instantly.
It was a horrible night. Not until near dawn did silence settle down on the excited house; neither Jim nor I shut our eyes. Jim talked incessantly. His very heart seemed on fire; all the lonely, pent up, denied brotherhood in his great warm nature had burst forth into full life at the nestling touch of this poor little outcast child. He was so lifted by the intense sentiment to a plane of earnestness and purpose, that he seemed to me like a stranger and grown man, instead of like my two years chum and a boy some months my junior. I felt a certain awe of him, and of the strange, new scenes, which had so transformed him. Mixed with it all, was a half defined terror lest he might not be quite in his senses. To my thoroughly prosaic nature, there was something so utterly inconceivable in this sudden passion of protecting tenderness towards a beggar child, this instantaneous resolve to adopt her into the closest relation but one in the world, that no theory but that of a sudden insanity could quite explain it. Jim had one of those finely organized natures, from whose magnetic sensitiveness nothing can be concealed. He recognized my thought.
"Will," he said, "I don't wonder you think I 'm crazy. But you need n't. I was never cooler-headed in my life; and as for my heart, every bit of this love has been there ever since I was a little shaver. I never tell you fellows half I think. I never have. I know you 'd only chaff me, and I dare say you 'd be half right, too, for there 's no doubt I 've got an awful big streak of woman in me. But a fellow can't help the way he 's made, and I tell you, Will, I cried myself to sleep many a night, when I was along about ten or twelve, because I did n't have a sister like most of the other boys. And since I have been a man [dear Jim, seventeen years and six months old] I have had the feeling just as strong as I had it then; only I 've had to keep it under. Of course, I know I 'll have a wife some day. And that 's another thing, Will, I never can see how the fellows can talk about that as they do. I could n't any more talk about my wife lightly and laughingly now, while I don't know who she 'll be, than I could do it after I had her. I can't explain it, but that 's the way I feel. But it 'll be years and years before I have a wife, and do you know, Will—I suppose this is another streak of woman in me—when I think of a wife, I never think so much of some one who is going to be all feeble and clinging, dependent on me, as I do of somebody who will be great and strong and serene, and will let me take care of her only because she loves me so much, and not a bit because she needs to be taken care of. But a sister is different. I 'd just like to have a sister that could n't do without me. And, by Jove, if ever a man had the thing he wanted put right straight into his hand, I should think I had. Don't you?"
"Yes, I should think you had, you dear old muff," I said. "But what in thunder are you going to do with the child? You can't carry her back to college with us."
"I know that; but I can have her at school there, and see her every day; and we can keep her with us here, this winter, and she 'll get to loving me first-rate before spring."
"Well, as for that, the little beggar loves you enough already,—that 's easy to see. It 's a case of love at first sight, on both sides," I said, carelessly. Jim flushed.
"Look here, Will," he said, very soberly, "you must n't speak that way. We 'll quarrel as sure as fate, old boy, if you do it; you must remember that from this day, Ally is just the same as if she were my own sister, blood-born. And is n't it strange, too, that Alice was my mother's name? That 's only one more of the strange things about it all. Supposing, for instance, we 'd gone the other road, as we came so near doing, we should n't have got here till day after to-morrow, and she 'd have been in their infernal poor-house by that time, I dare say; is n't this what you might call Fate with a vengeance? I don't wonder the old Pagans believed in it as they did. I believe I 'm half Pagan myself."
"Now, Jim," I interrupted, "don't go off into the classic ages. If you are really going to be such a——"
"Say fool, and be done with it, Will; I don't mind," he laughed.
"Well; if you 're really going to be such a fool is to adopt 'Ally,' and really want to keep her with us at Parson Allen's this winter, the sooner we drive over and see the old gentleman and break the news to him, the better. Oh, Jim!"—and I roared at the bare thought of how queer a look the thing had on the face of it "what will become of us if the parson has a keen sense of humor! Two college boys rusticated for serious misconduct, arriving at the door of his house with a young miss in their charge. I never thought of this before. It 's enough to kill one!"
Jim laughed, too. He could not help it. But he looked very uneasy.
"It is awkward," he said; "there 's no doubt about that! I 'd rather face the President again than this old parson, but I 've got a conviction that this thing is going to be all of a piece right straight through, and that the parson 'll be on my side."
"The parson's wife is more important, I reckon," said I. "It 'll all turn on how she takes it."
"Well, I think she 's all right," Jim replied. "Old Curtis, my guardian, knows her. He says she 's an angel; he knew her before she was married, and something in the dear old man's face, when he spoke of her, made me wonder if it was n't for her sake he 'd lived an old bachelor all his life. She was a Quaker, he said, and they have n't ever had any children. You know that it was Curtis who asked the President to send us here, don't you?"
I had not known this; it gave me a great sense of relief, for, "Old Ben Curtis," as he was always called, was a man whose instincts were of the finest order. A tenderer, purer, gentler, more chivalrous soul never lived. His lonely life had been for forty years a pain and a mystery to all who loved him. Was it possible that two careless college boys were to come upon the secret of it, in this little village in the heart of Maine?
When we went down-stairs, Alice was fast asleep. She began already to look younger and prettier; the dark circles under her eyes were disappearing, and the pitiful look of anxiety had gone from the forehead. Mrs. Bunker stood watching her.
"She 's as pooty a little gal as ye often see," she said, turning to Jim, with an evident and assured recognition of his paternal proprietorship. "I 'll be bound ye won't never regret a-taken' on her, sir. I suppose ye 'll send her right to yer folks?" she added, endeavoring to put the question carelessly, but succeeding poorly in veiling the thought which was uppermost in her mind.
"No, Mrs. Bunker," said Jim, "I shall not send her away if I can induce Parson Allen to keep her for the winter. I want her here very much."
Mrs. Bunker's countenance fell. Plainly she had had hopes that the child might be left in her own hands. But the native loyalty and goodness of her heart triumphed speedily, and she said, in a hearty one,—
"Lor' me! I never once thought of that! But I reckon it would be jest what Mis' Allen would like. She 's dreadful fond o' children. She an' the parson hain't never had any o' their own."
Jim glanced at me triumphantly.
"Yes," the good soul went on; "I do reely think there 's a kind o Providence in the hull thing from fust to last. I 've often heerd Mis Allen say that she an' the Parson hed thought of adoptin' a little gal, but they never quite see their way to do it. You see, his salary 's dreadful small. Tain't much we kin raise in money down here, and there 's a sight o' men folks moved out o' town 'n the last few years. So I reckon Mis Allen 's given up all idea on't long ago. Did ye ever see her? She 's jest the handsomest old lady ye ever sot eyes on. There ain't a gal in the meetin'us, not one, that 's got such cheeks as Mis' Allen, an' she 's goin on sixty. She 's a Quaker, for all she 's married the parson, an they do say there 's somethin' in the Quaker religion that 's wonderful purifyin' to the complexion. I don'no how 't is. But there ain't no such cheeks as Mis' Allen's in our meetin'us, old or young; I 'll say that much, whether it 's the religion makes 'em, or not."
Fairly launched on the subject of Mrs. Allen, good Mrs. Bunker would have talked until noon, apparently, if Jim had not interrupted her to say that we must go at once to report our arrival to Parson Allen, and to see what arrangements we could make for Alice there.
"Remember, Mrs. Bunker," he said, with great earnestness, "if Ally wakes, she is not to leave this room, and I do not wish her to see any one except yourself; she must not be told that her father is dead by any one but me. I hope very much that she will sleep till we return. I think she will, for she is very much exhausted." Jim's magnetism of nature always stood him instead of authority, and was far more sure of obtaining his ends than any possible authority could be. He simply mesmerized people's wills so that they desired and chose to do the things he wished done. It was perfectly plain already that so far as Ally was concerned, Mrs. Bunker and her whole household were at Jim's command.
As we drew near the parsonage, our hearts sank. Our errand grew more and more formidable in our eyes. Jim's face took on a look more serious than I had ever seen it wear, and he said little. I felt impatient and irritable.
"Oh, bother the thing!" I exclaimed, as I opened the gate; "I don't see how we 're going to have the face to ask them to take the child. If it were only a boy, it would be different."
Jim turned a slow look of unutterable surprise on me.
"Why, I don't see what difference that would make. I guess girls are not so much trouble. And I should n't have taken her if she 'd been a boy. It was a sister I wanted. I 've got you for brother, you know."
I felt guilty at heart.
"You dear old boy," I exclaimed, "go ahead; I won't go back on you."
We walked slowly up to the door, between two old-fashioned, narrow flower-beds. They were brown and rusty now, but in spring must have been gay, for there were great mats of the moss pink, thickets of phlox, and bushes of flowering almond. Now, the only blossoms left were the old-fashioned "Ladies' Delights," which were still plentiful, and seemed to have been allowed to run at will from one end of the beds to the other. The house was a large two-story house, square, white, with nine windows on the front; on one side of the door stood a scrawny lilac-tree; on the other, a high bush of southern-wood. As Jim lifted the big black knocker, he said, under his breath: "Well, there 's room enough, anyhow. Look at the windows! I wonder what the parson lives in such a big house for, if it is n't on purpose to take us all in."
"Perhaps he don't have the whole of it," said I. At that instant, before the knocker fell, the door was opened, and there stood "Mis' Allen." I had broken a bit of the southern-wood, and was crumpling the sweet-bitter leaves in my fingers as the door opened. To this day I can never smell southern-wood without recalling the picture of Mistress Dorothy Allen as she stood in that door-way.
"No such cheeks," indeed! Well might Mrs Bunker have said it. They were of such pink as lines the innermost curves of the conch shell; and the rest of the face was white and soft. Her eyes were as bright-brown as little Alice's, but were serene and grave. Very thin white hair was put smoothly back under a transparent lace cap, which was tied under the chin by a narrow white ribbon. Her dress was of a pale gray, and fell straightly to her feet. Folds of the finest plain white lace were crossed on her bosom, and fastened by two tiny gold-headed pins, joined together by an inch or two of fine thread-like gold chain—the only thing bordering upon ornament which she ever wore.
"How does thee do? And thee?" she said, holding out motherly hands first to Jim, and then to me. "Come in. We were just about to have family prayers, and waited, because I had seen you at the gate. It is a good hour to have come home;" and she smiled upon us so warmly that we could not remember to speak, but followed her into the house, bewildered by our welcome.
Parson Allen sat at a window; the bright autumn sun streamed in across the open Bible which lay on his knees. Nearly in the centre of the room stood a tall oleander-tree, in full bloom. The sunlight poured through and through its pink blossoms, and seemed to fill the room with a rosy glow.
"I am glad to see you, my sons," said Parson Allen. "I take it as a sign from the Lord, that you should have reached my house just at this hour; we always begin our days with prayer." There was not a trace of anything sanctimonious or pharisaical in his manner. It was as simple and hearty and loving as if he were speaking of his affection for an earthly friend, and his habit of morning greeting to him. As he waved his hand to us to be seated, and said, "After prayers, we will tell you how glad we are to see you, wife and I," by some sudden, undefined association, the words, "Christ, our elder brother," floated into my mind. I glanced at Jim. His eyes were misty. The religious element was much more fully developed in his nature than in mine, and he was much more profoundly impressed than I, by the spiritual atmosphere of the scene. He afterwards said to me, that he could think of nothing while the parson was speaking, except that this must be, the way angels welcomed new-comers into Heaven, if they happened to arrive while the singing was going on. We sat down together in one of the deep window-seats; more than once, at some Bible verse read in a peculiarly impressive manner, Jim's hand stole over to mine, and his eyes dropped to the floor. But what was our astonishment when, after the Psalm, came these words from the "Enchiridion" of Epictetus:—
"There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power, Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.
"Now the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien, Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own, and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you; you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm."
Jim and I had been wild boys. We had come down to this far away village in disgrace, with something of bitterness and resentment entering into all our resolutions of good behavior. But in our first hours in the parsonage, the bitterness, the doubt, the resentment, melted away, and there was sown in our souls a seed of reverence, of belief, of purpose, whose whole harvest has never been garnered, neither indeed can be, since in Eternity is neither seed-time nor harvest.
In less than half an hour after prayers were ended, Jim and I had told to our newly found friends the whole story of little Alice, and of out desire to bring her to live with us at the parsonage for the winter. Mrs. Allen's eyes glistened at the thought.
"Husband," she said, slowly, "I feel myself much drawn toward this little girl. Does thee not think it is a clear call that this young man's heart is so set upon bringing her to live under our roof?"
"Dorothy, thee knows that it shall be as thee likes," said Parson Allen, his eyes resting as lovers eyes rest, on the smooth cheeks, whose beautiful pink was deeping a little in her eager interest; "but we must consider whether James's guardian will think we have done wisely in permitting him to undertake the charge of a child. My mind misgives me that most people would not approve of his taking this burden upon him."
"Benjamin Curtis is not of the world's people at heart," said Mistress Dorothy, gently. "He cannot have changed in that, I am persuaded, though it is thirty-five years since I saw him. If, as James says, he has these thousands of dollars each year to spend, Benjamin Curtis will joy to see him spending it on another rather than himself."
"That he will," burst in Jim. "He 's the most generous old boy in the world. Why, he goes looking like a beggar himself half the time, he gives away so much of his own money; and he 's never so pleased with me as when I go and tell him that I 've just given away my whole quarter's allowance and am dead broke."
Mistress Allen's eyes were fixed dreamily on the oleander-tree, but her mouth was tremulous with intent interest.
"Did thee say that thy guardian was frequently impoverished himself, by reason of his gifts to the poor?" she asked. "That is like the boy I knew forty years ago."
"Why, no, I can't exactly say he 's impoverished, because he 's got heaps of money, you know," replied Jim; "but he 's so full of other people's troubles and needs that he don't remember his own, and he goes pretty seedy half the time, bless his old heart! He 's the biggest brick of a guardian a fellow ever had. I know just as well, Mrs. Allen, that he 'll be only too glad to have me adopt Ally for my sister, and take care of her all the rest of my life, as if I 'd asked him; and it will only take four days to hear from him; I sent a letter this morning. You 'll very soon see that it is all right."
"In the mean time, the little girl would be better off with us than in that wretched place where she is now," said Mrs. Allen. "Mrs. Bunker is a kindly woman, but there are sights and sounds there which the child should know nothing of. Thee had better bring her over this afternoon, that is," she added, turning to me, "if thy friend will share thy room for a few days, and give up to the child the one we had prepared for him. We have not had need for many rooms, and have had no money to spend on anything but needs; so most of our chambers are still unfurnished;" and a shade of what would have been mortification thirty-five years before, but was now only sweet resignation to a cross, passed over the beautiful old face.
The dreaded errand was over; the difficulties had all vanished, as Jim's prophetic sense had assured him they would; and we parted from Parson Allen and his wife, as we might have parted from our father and mother, eager to come back to our home at the earliest possible moment.
It was a mile from the parsonage to the hotel; Jim drove furiously, and hardly spoke during the whole distance.
"I 'll never forgive myself for staying so long, if Ally 's waked up and cried," he said. "We might have done it all in one half the time. Will, did you ever, in all your life, see such a heavenly old face? It 's enough to make a saint of a fellow just to look at her! I sha'n't ever call her 'Mrs. Allen!' I 've got to call her 'mother,' or 'aunt,' or something. Guardy was right, she 's an angel," he exclaimed, as he jumped out of the buggy, and throwing the reins to me, bounded into the house.
Ally was still asleep; Mrs. Bunker said she had roused once, and asked for "the kind gentleman," and on being told that he had left word that she must not stir from bed; had asked pitifully: "Does he keep little girls in bed all day, every day?" and had then fallen asleep again almost immediately.
"I don't wonder, sir, that Mr. Ordway 's so taken with her," said Mrs. Bunker to me, as we stood together in the front door. "She 's jest the winnin'est child I ever laid eyes on; she 's jest like a lamb, yit there ain't nothin' stoopid about her. But, ain't it strange, she never so much 's asked for her pa? I was all over a tremble for fear she would. I reckon it 's a mercy the Lord 's taken her out o' his hands."
I did not see Jim or Ally for some hours. I went several times to the door, but I heard Jim's voice talking in a low and earnest tone, and I knew he was telling the child of her father's death and of his intention of adopting her as his sister, and it was better that they should be alone. At last Jim called me in. He was sitting at the head of the bed, and Ally's head was on his shoulder. I never forgot the picture. Ally had been crying bitterly, but her face had a look of perfect peace on it. Jim had been crying also, but his eyes shone with joy and eager purpose.
"Ally," he said, as I entered, "this is Will. He is just the same as my brother; so he is just the same as your brother, you know."
"Yes, sir," said Ally, looking at me with a grave and searching expression. "Shall I kiss you?"
"Yes, indeed, you dear little thing," I exclaimed; and as I stooped over, she put one tiny thin arm ground my neck,—the other was around Jim's,—drew my head down to her face, and kissed me once, twice, three times, with the sweetest kisses lips ever gave. I thought so then; I think so still. From that moment my fealty to Alice was as strong as Jim's. Wondrous little maid-child! Alone, unknown, beggared, outcast, she had won to her service and forever two strong and faithful hearts with all the loyalty of manhood springing in them.
Two days later, Jim and Alice and I were all so peacefully settled down in our new home that it seemed as if we had been living there for weeks. Never did household so easily, so swiftly adjust itself to new bonds, new conditions. The secret laws of human relations are wonderfully like those of chemistry. An instant of time is enough for blending, where the affinity is true; an eternity is not enough, if the affinity do not exist. Oh, the years and strength, and vital force which we waste in the vain endeavor to make antagonistic currents flow smoothly together! When Mrs. Allen first looked into Ally's face, tears sprang to her eyes, and she exclaimed involuntarily: "Dear child, dear child; does thee think thee could call me mother?" Ally flung both her arms round the old lady's neck, and said, in a tone so earnest that it made her simple answer more emphatic than volumes of asseveration could have been:—
"Yes, ma'am; I 'd like to very much, if you will be my brother Jim's mother, too."
"Oh, Mrs. Allen, please let me!" said Jim, in a tone as simple and earnest as Ally's.
"And me, too! I can't be the only orphan in the house," exclaimed I.
The sweet old face flushed, and she turned smilingly to her husband, saying:—
"A quiver full—is it not, husband?"
"He setteth the solitary in families," replied Parson Allen, solemnly and tenderly. "God bless you all, my children." And he drew Ally to his arms very fondly.
It was thought best that Ally should know nothing of the circumstances of her father's death, nor of his funeral. It was enough for her trusting little soul to be told that he had died. There was no bond of love between them. He had represented to her only terror and suffering, since her babyhood. The strongest proof of this was the fact that she never mentioned his name; of her mother she had no recollection; her life had been almost incredibly sad; it was hard to conceive how a child could have lived to be eleven years old, and have had so few associations stamped on her mind, either with places or people. Her memories seemed to be chiefly of hunger and loneliness, and terror of her father of room after room in which she had been left alone, day after clay, and sometimes night after night, for weeks and months; and of long journeys which were one shade less dreadful than the solitary confinement had been, because, as she said quietly: "Everybody spoke to me, and I liked that."
It was a marvel how, in this hard life, had grown the grace and instincts which made Ally so lovable. She had had no books, no toys she had known no other child; she had spent whole years of days, simply watching the sun and the sky, as a little savage might in the forest; but in place of the savage's sense of freedom, she had had the constant pain of constraint and fear. There was a certain fine fiber in her nature, which had saved her from being benumbed and dulled by these; had transmuted the suffering into a patience all the more beautiful that it was so unconscious. It was certain that this fine organization must have come from her mother. If only we could have known,—if only we could have found a clew to her history! But Ally had no recollections of her; and the few papers found in her father's possession threw no light on his past or his plans for the future. What could have brought him to this remote spot, no one could divine; and where their luggage had been left, Ally did not know.
"It 's just as if she had been dropped out of the skies to me," said Jim, one day, as we were talking it all over; "and that is just where I used to look up, and think I saw little girl angels flying, when I was a little fellow, and used to cry for a sister. I remember once, when I was only eight years old, I spoke right out loud, in church, at prayer-time and asked my mother, 'Oh, mamma, is n't there the least chance of my ever having a little sistar?' And afterward, when she talked with me about it, she cried so, that I never said another word about a sister to her till she died. But I remember I said to her then: "I know I 'll have a sister some day! I know I will! You see if I don't! How can you be so sure God never will give me one? And now, you see, I have got one."
Yes! It was indeed as if Ally had been dropped out of the skies into Jim's hands. We were her only friends in the country,—so far as we knew, in the world,—and all that she could tell us of herself was that she was eleven years old, and that her name was Alice Fisher.
She was a marvelous child. Mrs. Bunker's homely words told the exact truth of her; they came to my mind constantly in the course of our first days at the parsonage. "She 's jest like a lamb, and yit there ain't nothin' stoopid about her." She obeyed, with an instant and pathetic docility, the slightest suggestion from any one of us; she rarely made a movement of her own accord. Wherever we placed her, whatever we gave her to do, there she stayed; with that thing she continued to occupy herself until some one proposed a change.
This was the result of the long patience she had learned in her sad years of solitude and confinement. But her eager brown eyes watched with intensest interest everything that happened within her sight, and no word that was spoken escaped her attention. At family prayers, while the Bible was being read, her face was a study. She had known but dimly of God and of Christ, and she had never in her life said a prayer until she had knelt by her new mother's side on the first evening of our arrival.
The next morning, immediately after prayers, we were all startled by this question from her:—
"Why don't you go into the room where God is? Is it that one?" pointing to the closed door on the opposite side of the hall.
The little, ignorant child had felt to her heart's core the same atmosphere which had so impressed us when we first heard Parson Allen pray. She felt, as we knew, that he was speaking to some one very near. Every fiber of motherhood in Mrs. Allen's heart twined around this sensitive, loving, helpless little creature.
"She seems to me like a babe," she said; "like a babe found in the wilderness. I hope we may be guided to nurture her aright, for I believe she is a child of very rare gifts. She has not known the name of Christ, but she has lived his life, and I have a conviction that she is one of his chosen ones."
No danger but that Ally would be nurtured aright in the house of which Dorothy Allen's sweet soul was the central warmth, and the man she loved was the light and strength. I have seen many households, households of wealth and culture, households of simple and upright living, but I have never seen one which so filled my ideal of a home as this plain and poor little parsonage. The secret of it all lay in the fact that its life was idealized idealized, first, by Dorothy Allen's lovingness and her fine sense of beauty and grace; secondly, by her husband's fine sense of moral truth, and his devotion to thought and study. Parson Allen was a rare scholar. Only his great modesty prevented his being known as one of the finest Greek scholars in the country; but all his learning did not in the least detract from the "simplicity of Christ," with which he was filled. I shall never, in any world, hear a grander outburst of praise from lips of saint or angel than these words seemed to me, pronounced as he often used to pronounce them at the end of his morning prayer: "For the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen nor can see; to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen."
His enthusiasm for study, his recognition and love of high thoughts, were no less hearty than his enthusiasm for Christ and his love of souls. There were no limitations to his religion. Life, from Adam until now, was to him all one great, beautiful revelation of God. He was a devoted disciple of Christ; he believed with all his heart in the Christian dispensation; but he walked also with Socrates and Plato, and was broad enough to feel that he did Christ's words no dishonor when he read side by side with them at our morning prayers, the bravest and most religious words of men who, dying before Christ was born, yet saw and preached and lived the truths for whose sake Christ died. Ah, never did two boys sit at the feet of a wiser, stronger, sweeter teacher than Parson Allen. Our winter with him was worth more to us than all our after years in college. The lessons which we recited to him from text-books were the smallest part of the education he gave us. The Plato that I read to him I have forgotten. The Plato that he read to us is part of my life.
No less rare than his power of compelling us unconsciously to assimilate intellectual truths was his wife's power of giving us spiritual tests, and arousing in us a need of the highest living. We did not know, as the noiseless and gentle days slipped by, how much beauty they bore. We did not know in what their charm lay; but when we went into the presence of those who lived on a lower plane, for smaller ends, and with a less love of beauty, less depth of insight and feeling, we recognized the change in the atmosphere, as one does who comes suddenly from pure, outside air, into the confined and impure air of a house. I might write pages in the endeavor to explain this fact; to analyze the fine flavor which Dorothy Allen knew how to give, or, rather, could not help giving, to life; but my words would be vain. It was not that she was always gentle, low-voiced, dainty, and full of repose; it was not that she knew how to produce in her simple household, and with small means, the effect of almost luxury of living, in all matters of food and service, and personal comfort; it was not that she had, spite of her Quaker training, a passion for color; and from December round to December, never permitted her home to be one day without the brightness of blossoming flowers; it was not that her warm, active nature was thoroughly alive to all the events, all the interests of the day, and that she had ever some new thing to speak of with eager interest, and found the days far too short for inquiring into all the matters which she desired to search out. It was no one of these; it was not all of these. I have seen women of whom all these things were true, but they did not create a home as did this woman. Neither was it the great lovingness of her nature, marvelous as that was: God makes many women who are all love and lovingness. It was—so far as language can state it—it was because in all these traits, into every one of the acts springing from them, there entered a deep significance, a symbolic meaning, a spiritual vitality, born of her intensity of temperament and purity of nature. The smallest thing had its soul, as well as its body; and the soul radiated through and through the body until transfiguration became an ever-present reality. For thirty-three years she had every morning laid by her husband's plate, before breakfast, a bunch of flowers—or at least, a green leaf, if no flowers were to be found. When Jim first saw her do this, he came to me, and said, "Will, that 's the way the Lord meant a woman and a man should love each other. That geranium-flower she put down by his plate this morning was n't simply a geranium-flower—either to her or to him. Oh, if I were a poet, I 'd just write what I saw in her eyes. They said, 'All the summers of the world, all the sun, all the light, all the color, have gone to make up these blossoms; since the beginning of time, the moment has been journeying on at which it should bloom, in the spot where my hand could gather it for thee; my vow is no less than its! Love it for to-day, my love! reverence it, and to-morrow another blossom will bloom either here or in eternity, also for thee!'"
"Oh, Jim," I said, "You ought to have been a woman. I don't believe the dear old mother thought any such thing. She knows that Dominie loves flowers that 's all!"
"All!" exclaimed Jim, "I tell you the flower 's nothing! It might be a pebble; it might be a crown of diamonds and pearls. It 's the soul of love, and the symbol of life, when she lays it down there of a morning. It 's just so when she hands him a newspaper, for that matter. I 've seen him look up at her as if she had just that minute given him herself for the first time, dear old lovers, that they are. And if you watch, you 'll see that he has that flower about him all day somewhere; if it is n't in his fingers, it 's lying on his desk, or in his button-hole. I 've seen him read a whole forenoon with it in his hand. I wonder if anything like it will ever happen to you or me, in this world, Will?"
"May be to you, Jim; not to me. I 'm too prosaic. I should n't understand it. I don't half know what you mean now," replied I. But, in spite of my words, I did know dimly, and wondered, as Jim had wondered, if it were ever to be mine.
"I don't know, old fellow," said Jim. "I 've a notion that the Dominie was something such a fellow as you are; he isn't a bit like her, anyhow. That 's the reason he worships her so. Now, I am like her. I know just how she feels about fifty things a day, when you are only listening to what she says, and trying to make it out that way, just as you do with me, you dear, old, honest, sturdy, strong, slow fellow, worth a thousand of me, any day. But if I were a woman, and you loved me, you 'd understand me just as the Dominie understands mother."
In this warmth of love and care, little Alice bloomed out like the geraniums in the deep window-seats. At the end of two weeks no one would have known the child, except by the hazel-brown eyes. Suffering and feebleness had not disguised or dimmed the beauty of those; neither could joy and health add to it. They were simply and forever perfectly beautiful. One looked from them to the shining, yellow curls, and then back from the yellow curls to the brown eyes, in almost incredulity of the wonderful combination. Each day we feared to see the golden hue change on the sunny head; but it never changed, never!
It soon became our habit to take Ally with us on all our rambles. She was as nimble and as tireless as a squirrel, and so full of joy in all things she saw that she was a perpetual delight to us. She ran between us, holding a hand of each; she ran before us, her golden curls reaching far back on the wind she lagged behind, hiding mischievously behind a tree or rock, and laughing loud like an infant to hear us call her. Sometimes we clasped our hands together and carried her proudly aloft higher than our heads, and holding on clingingly to each neck. When we put her down, she always kissed Jim, saying: "Thank you, brother Jim," and then, turning to me: "Thank you, too, Mr. Will; would you like to have me kiss you?"
One day I said to her, as we were sitting under a tree: "Ally, you always kiss Jim without asking him. How do you know he likes it? Why don't you kiss me without asking me?"
"Why, he is my brother," she said instantly; "he wants me to kiss him always," and she sprang up with a wonderfully agile spring which he had taught her, and lit on his shoulder, where she sat perched like a bird, kissing him over and over. Then she said, more gravely: "Brother Jim did n't say you were my brother. He said you were just the same as my brother. There is n't any same as brother about kisses."
Oh, marvelous maid-child of eleven! Jim laughed, but I had a strange sense of pain in the child's words, and I waited sorely for days and days, for her to kiss me, spontaneously and freely as she kissed Jim.
The Indian summer lingered late and long. The maples turned scarlet and gold, the ash-trees to purple and yellow, till the forests outvied the sunrise and sunset. Little Alice had never seen this sight. It gave her delight so great that it bordered on pain. Day after day she filled the house with the bright boughs. Not a corner, hardly a chair, but had the glittering leaves lying in it; it was as if they floated down among us through the roof; and Ally was never seen without them in her hand, or placed fantastically around her belt or in her hair. It grieved her very heart that they must die.
"Oh, why do they not stay on all the winter, brother Jim?" she said. "Why can they not be this color all summer? I suppose God likes green best? Is there any other world where He lets the trees be red and yellow all the time?"
One afternoon, we were returning very late from a ramble in the woods, now nearly leafless. Ally had made a long wreath of crimson oak-leaves, and we had thrown it round and round her shoulders and neck, till it looked like a mantle of red, with long ends trailing down behind. Her golden curls fluttered like sunbeams across it, and as she ran lightly before us, and, lifting up one end of the crimson wreath in her hand, looked archly through it over her shoulder, laughing and crying out, "Now, I am an oak-tree running away from you," Jim drew a long, sighing breath and whispered to me: "Oh, Will, does she look like a mortal child? I think she is an angel and will fly away presently."
At that instant she stumbled over a projecting root of a tree and fell heavily to the ground without a cry. She was several rods in advance of us; before we reached her she had fainted.
We were almost paralyzed with terror; we were two miles from home, and on the top of a rough and rocky ledge, the face of which was so thickly grown with scrub oaks that we had found great difficulty in forcing our way through. "Oh, Will, how are we to get her home?" gasped Jim, as he lifted her up. The poor little white face, with its yellow curls, fell limp and lifeless on his shoulder, and the torn oak wreaths tangled themselves around his arms. She looked as if she were dead; but in a few moments she opened her eyes, and said: "I am not hurt brother Jim, not a bit. Where is the pretty green stone?"
"Oh, Ally dear, are you sure you 're not hurt?" exclaimed Jim; "never mind about the stone; was it that made you fall?"
"But I must mind about the stone," said Ally. "You have n't got any such stone among all yours; it was as pretty almost as the leaves; it 's right down here, under the old root that tripped me up. I wanted to get it for you, brother Jim,"—and she tried to slip away from his arms to look for it.
"Stay still, Ally, stay still. I 'll find it," said I. "What sort of stone was it?"
"Oh, beautiful," said Ally; "it shone, and it was shaped like my prisms! Oh, do find it, Mr. Will."
I searched in vain; the old tree had been partially uprooted, and its scrawny underground branches exposed to light, had twirled themselves into strange shapes. Stones and earth had piled up around them, and a big mullein was growing on the very top of the root; coarse white pebbles and sharp bits of granite were lying all about, but no such stone as Ally described could I see.
"Dear little Ally, you must have fancied it; as you fell, things looked different to you; there is n't any such stone here."
Ally rarely contradicted, or urged any point; but her child's heart was too firmly set on the pretty stone to abandon it without a further effort.
"But, Mr. Will, I saw it before I fell. It was that tripped me up. I mean, I went to stoop over and pick it up, and I caught my foot." This was logic irresistible. I searched again, but with no better result. All this time, Jim had been anxiously studying Ally's face, and paying little attention to the search for the stone.
"Ally," said he suddenly, "where does it hurt you? Something hurts you, I know by your face."
"My foot, just a little bit, brother Jim, but not if I don't move it," replied Alice.
"This one?" said Jim, touching it very gently.
Ally moaned in spite of herself.
"Yes, that one, brother Jim; please don't touch it. It will be well pretty soon."
Ally had sprained her ankle. That was evident. The slightest movement or the slightest touch was more than she could bear. It was very near sunset, and fast growing cold. To carry the child down that rocky ledge, and through the scrub oak, without giving her greater torture than she could bear, seemed impossible. But it must be done.
Jim rose up very slowly, with her in his arms, saying, "Now try, dear little Ally, to bear the pain."
"Yes, brother Jim, I will; it"—but the sentence ended in a groan. Ally was very much hurt. At last, I arranged a sling from Jim's right shoulder in which both her legs could rest, and in this position she bore the motion better. As we moved slowly away from the tree, the gentle brown eyes looked back wistfully; in spite of the pain she could not forget the stone. Suddenly she cried out joyfully:—
"Oh, there it is, Mr. Will. Mr. Will, there is the stone!" and she pointed to a crevice in the tree-roots, higher up than I had looked.
There it was; and a most beautiful stone indeed; Neither Jim nor I had ever seen one like it. It was a crystal nearly two inches long, of a brilliant green color, shading through paler and paler tints to a clear white, and then from white to a deep rose red. For a second we almost forgot Ally in our wonder at the gem. There was nothing like it in the cabinet of our college; we had never read of any such stone.
"Oh, let me carry it, Mr. Will," pleaded Ally. "I won't drop it, and it will help me bear my foot better;" and the sensitive child fixed her eyes with passionate delight on the crystal.
Presently she said, feebly, "Take the stone, Mr. Will. I can't hold it. It pricks."
As I took it from her, a sharp shock of pain ran up my arm. What was this weird bit of crystallized red and green on which we had stumbled? Had we, unawares, linked ourselves to unseen dangers, hidden spells? I was ashamed of the vague sense of terror with which I walked on through the twilight recalling the whole scene: the little flying maiden, with her fantastic red wreaths and golden curls, the strange stone, the mystic bond between her and it, the sharp and inexplicable pain which had shot through my frame on taking it from her hand.
Ally's sprain proved a serious hurt; it was almost a fracture. In two hours after we reached home, the slender ankle was firmly bound with splinters, and the patient little face looking up from pillows on which the Doctor had said she must probably lie for some weeks. As he was the room she said:—
"Oh, please, Mr. Will, show my pretty stone to the Doctor."
Dr. Miller reached out his hand eagerly for the crystal as soon as he saw its shape and color.
"Why, bless my soul, what 's that," he exclaimed. "You found that up on Black Ledge? Somebody must have dropped it. It 's an emerald. No, it is n't, either. Look at this red in it."
The Doctor was thoroughly excited. He turned the stone over and over, held it up to the lamplight, all the while muttering to himself, "Most extraordinary! Never saw or heard of such a stone as this before;" "looks like magic;" "and, by Jove, I believe it is," he said, dropping the stone suddenly on the floor, and rubbing his fingers violently. "It 's given me an electric shock."
"It made my hand prick," said Ally. "I could n't hold it either."
The Doctor and I stooped at once to pick it up, and our hands touched it simultaneously. Instantly the same sharp thrill of heat flamed up my arm as before. I drew back, and again I glanced uneasily at Ally, and felt that there was something supernatural in the bond between her and the stone. The Doctor sprang to his feet, thrust both his hands in his pockets, and stood looking down at the crystal. Then he put the lamp on the floor. The carpet was of a pale gray. The gem shone out vividly upon it, and green and rose-colored rays gleamed and flickered through it as we moved the lamp from side to side. Very quietly Mrs. Allen bent down, and, after looking at it earnestly for a second or two, lifted it and laid it on the silver snuffer tray on the stand. On the polished silver it looked still more beautiful. Ally clapped her hands with delight.
"It is evidently some jewel which has been lost," said Mrs. Allen. "We ought to seek for the owner. Does thee not think it may be of great value?" she asked, turned to Dr. Miller.
"I don't know anything about it, Mrs. Allen," replied the Doctor. "I am inclined to think there 's some kind of witchcraft about the thing, anyhow."
"But thee does not believe in any kind of witchcraft about anything," said Mrs. Allen, with a placid twinkle in her eyes. "Thee knows that very well. Can thee not judge if it is a carven gem, or if it is in a state of nature? I think I have read of various stones having a certain electrical power."
"Oh, it is not cut," said the Doctor. "It 's a natural crystal. It 's the color that poses me. I have never read of such a stone."
"Please let me take it a minute," said Ally.
I laid it in her hand. She stroked it softly with the other hand, then raised it to her cheek.
"It gets brighter every minute Ally holds it," exclaimed Jim.
Indeed it did. As we watched the motions of it in the child's hands, it seemed almost as if a distinct light came from it, and played upon her features. Suddenly she dropped it, with a little cry.
"It pricked again, brother Jim. Is it alive? Does it hate to have us handle it?"
We gathered around the bed. There lay the gem, silent, shining, rosy red and emerald green, on the white sheet, between Ally's two little outstretched hands, which she held to right and left of it, as if afraid it might escape her. Her cheeks were scarlet and her eyes dilated with excitement. She watched it as if expecting it to move. I think it would have astonished none of us if it had. We watched it for some time in silence. Then Mrs. Allen laid it again on the silver tray, and placed the tray on a high shelf, saying, quietly, "I do not feel any of these singular sensations myself in touching the stone. It is a most beautiful jewel. We must seek for the owner to-morrow, and now this child must go to sleep."
Late into the night we sat around the fire talking about the magic stone and making the wildest conjectures about its nature, its history. Dr. Miller was as excited as Jim and I, and the Dominie seemed carried out of himself by the sight of it. "It brings more to my mind the thought of the crystal gates of the heavenly city," he said, "than anything I have ever seen. Who knows but it may be one of the gems mentioned in Revelations whose names are not now well known.
Dr. Miller smiled, half reverently, half pityingly.
The village called Dr. Miller an atheist, because of the blunt speech in which he set his contempt for creeds which they held sacred. But so much the more, by all the scorn which he felt for the picture of God as framed in the phrases of men, did he love the picture of God as framed in a rock, or a mountain, or a daisy.
"I 've a notion, parson, that God makes jewels for more practical purposes than for gates to his heaven," he said. "If we 've got a mine up on Black Ledge of such gems as this, it 's a fortune for some of us. I own a big piece of the ledge to the south myself, and I 'm going up the first thing in the morning with these boys, to see if there are any more stones like this one."
Dominie smiled, also half reverently, half pityingly. The two men loved each other.
At dawn Jim and I sprang up. Jim went to the window. In a tone of utter despair he ejaculated:—
The ground was white with snow—deep, solid, level snow. It must have snowed furiously all night. Winter had come in utter earnest. Side by side we stood and looked out on the scene. The air was thick with snow-flakes. We could not see ten rods from the house.
"Plague take this climate," said I. "When it once comes down this way there 's no let up to it till spring; I know all about it. I spent a winter in Vermont once, and from the first of December till the middle of March we never saw an inch of bare ground. I just hate it. Now, we can't look after those stones for three months."
"I don't believe there are any more of them, Will," said Jim, speaking slowly and in an earnest tone. "I believe there was just that one left there for Ally, by angels, for all I know. Did you see how that light flickered on her face when she stroked her cheek with the stone? And if there were any such stones would n't Dr. Miller know? Should n't we have seen some in the cabinet?"
"Oh, pshaw! you dear old Jim," I said. "I agree with Dr. Miller that God don't make stones on earth for gates to heaven, nor for angels to give to earthly children—not even to Ally!" I added, with a sudden conscience-stricken memory of the picture of her the night before, with the tangled crimson oak wreaths and the yellow curls and the flying feet, and how I myself had shuddered in the twilight to recall the thrill of hot pain which shot through my nerves when she first handed me the stone.
"I dare say we 'll all get some money out of that old ledge yet. New minerals are all the time being discovered."
"Money!" said Jim, contemptuously. "I believe if a feather should drop off an angel's wing you 'd pick it up and wonder what it would sell for."
"Yes, I would," said I, very composedly; "not wearing angels' wings myself, and having no kind of use for that kind of feather! I 'd sell it as a curiosity and buy a pair of cassimere trousers; and so would you, old fellow, if you had n't any more money than I have."
"Oh, forgive me, Will, dear Will, I did n't mean to be rough on you!" exclaimed Jim, with his whole face grieved at his own thoughtlessness. "But you know I do hate money-making, and money-talking, and money-worshiping. If I had n't had money to begin with, I 'd never have made a cent more than just enough to get bread with."
"I don't believe you 'd have made that, old boy," laughed I. "You would have sat on the sunny side of the almshouse, perfectly rapt in content, watching angels in the clouds, and treasuring up their feathers if they happened to drop any! And then you could n't have adopted Ally."
"No," said Jim, thoughtfully. "After she came, I think I 'd have carried the angels' feathers to market, and made as sharp a bargain for them as you yourself, Will."
I was right. It was the winter which had set in. All that day, and all the next day, it snowed without stopping. The village seemed slowly, steadily sinking in a silvery morass; bush after bush, stone wall after stone-wall, fence after fence, landmark after landmark, disappeared, until the of open country lay as unbroken as an Arctic Ocean, and the very chimney-tops of the town looked like the heads of hopelessly overwhelmed travelers. On the morning of the second day, Dr. Miller came in, trampling, puffing, and shaking off snow from shoulders, pockets, beard, everywhere; he shed the powdery avalanches as a pine-tree sheds them when it is rocked by a sudden wind.
"Ha, boys," he exclaimed; "no hunting for precious stones on Black Ledge this year! We 're snowed up for three months at least. How 'll you youngsters like that? And how 's the ankle, Pussy," he said, in a softer tone, turning to Ally with such a smile as seldom came on his rugged face. A little bed had been brought into the sitting-room and set across the south window. In this Ally lay, under a marvelous coverlet which the parishioners had presented to Mrs. Allen at the last Donation Party. It was called the "Rising Sun" pattern, the villagers never having heard of the word Aurora. But there was something pathetic in the embryonic conception which these hard-working New England women had stitched into their bed-quilt of flaming Turkey red and white. A scarlet sun in the centre shot myriad spokes of red to the outer edge; and minor suns with smaller spokes were set at regular intervals around it. When Ally first saw this, she was so captivated by its splendors, that Mrs. Allen's motherly heart could not resist giving it to her; so Ally had, as she said, "twenty-five suns to keep her warm at night." The child's passion for color was intense. It was the forerunner of the exquisite artistic sense and worship of beauty in all things which marked her later development. She lay now, idly following with her tiny forefinger, scarlet ray after scarlet ray on the coverlet. The south window held two high abutilon-trees in full flower. Their striped orange bells and broad green leaves nodded above her like a fairy canopy; and at the foot of the bed stood the glossy, dark-leaved oleander-tree, with a few pink blossoms left on the upper boughs. The sun streamed in at the four windows, and the reflected light from the snow world outside was almost too dazzling. Close by Ally's side sat Mrs. Allen, her pale gray gown, soft white hair, and filmy lace, making a delicious tone of relief for the sunlit reds and yellows.
Dr. Miller put his hands behind him and stood before the fire for some moments, silently drinking in the picture. Then he turned suddenly to us, and said in a gruff tone:—
"Boys, how d' ye like it, here?" Jim laughed outright.
"Just about as well as you 'd like it yourself, Doctor."
Jim had been watching the Doctor closely. The Doctor chuckled, and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Pretty good for you, boy. Bring out that stone of yours. Let 's look at it by daylight. The confounded thing kept me awake last night. I can't imagine what it is."
Ally raised herself slowly on one elbow, and, fumbling under her pillow, brought out from a miscellaneous store of treasures a tiny blue silk bag. In this was the crystal.
"Mother said I could have it to sleep with," she said; "but in the night I heard it crawling in the bag, so I moved it from under my head. It 's alive. I guess it 'll get to know me."
Again I felt a strange shudder at the child's words, and at the eager look with which her eyes followed the gem as she gave it into the Doctor's hands. Again we experienced the same singular sensation, like shocks from an electric battery, in passing it from hand to hand. Again we fancied that the colors deepened while Ally held it, and that a peculiar iridescent light flashed from it when it was held near her face. It was very evident that she grew more and more excited while the stone was in motion in the room. Her cheeks grew red and the pupils of her eyes dilated, and she was restless; she did not like to have it out of her possession; still she could not hold it for many minutes.
"What does make it pinch so?" she said. "Poor little Stonie, is that all the way it can speak? Mother said the wasp pricked me to say 'Let me alone;' but this does not hurt. I like it."
Mrs. Allen looked uneasy. "Does thee think, Doctor, it can harm the child?"
"No," replied the Doctor, in a perplexed tone. "No, I think not. If it is, as it seems to me, simply a natural electricity, it may do good; but it is a strange thing. I 'd give a good deal to know what it is."
Broad sunbeams were resting on Ally's bed; the coverlet was soon warm to the touch. Ally laid the crystal carefully on one of the white spaces, "Stonie does not look pretty on the red color," she said. One of the abutilon blossoms had fallen, and she was slowly tearing the bright striped bell into strips and arranging them in fantastic patterns on her breast; the feathery stamens also lay scattered about like a shower of golden threads. Suddenly Ally cried out:—
"Oh, see! The flowers like Stonie; they follow him."
We all ran to her bed, and stood transfixed with astonishment at the sight. Yes, the flowers did follow the stone! As Ally drew it slowly along, the tiny shreds of the abutilon petals and the slender filaments of the stamens followed it. On touching it they adhered slightly to the surface, as magnetized objects to a magnet. "Is Stonie eating them?" said Ally. "Is that what he lives on?" This persistent disposition on Ally's part to speak of the stone as a living and sentient thing, childish as it was, and as we all the while knew it to be, heightened our half superstitious sense of mystery in the thing. For the first time Mrs. Allen's face experienced a shade of the same feeling.
"My mind misgives me," she said, slowly, "that it would be well for us to return this mysterious visitor to the place from which he came."
"Oh, no, no, mother dear," cried Ally; "not out in the cold snow, my dear Stonie," and she lifted it to her lips and kissed it. With a little cry, she dropped it quickly, exclaiming, "He is hot as fire, I left him in the sun too long; he pricked me to say he did not like it," and she picked the stone up again cautiously, and, with a timid air, half appealing, half resolute, dropped it into the little silk bag, looking all the time in Mrs. Allen's eyes, and saying "Please let me keep him, mother; he is such a pretty Stonie, and he 'll get to know me."
"Oh, yes, let her keep it," said Dr. Miller, "it 's only a crystal. We 're foolish to be so stirred up about a bit of stone, just because we never saw any thing like it before. I dare say there are a few more stones on the earth we don't know. We 're nothing but ignoramuses,—at least I am,—begging your pardon, Mistress Allen."
Mrs. Allen smiled. "I know only too well how ignorant I am of all the treasures in this wonderful world," she said. "The word that thee used did not stir any resentment in my heart, I assure thee. But does thee really think it is safe for the child to have for a plaything a stone which has such strange properties as this? And does thee not think it may be a jewel of value lost by some stranger on the hill?"
Dr. Miller sprang to Ally's bed and bent over it. In that moment, almost before she had put the stone fairly back into the bag, the child had fallen asleep. It seemed an unnatural sleep to have come so suddenly, and yet her breathing was peaceful, her pulse regular, and her cheeks were less flushed than before.
"It 's the electricity; it must be," said the Doctor, more to himself than to us. "No," he continued, "I do not see any danger in the thing. The electrical properties of the stone must be slight, and the child will soon weary of it as of any other toy. But the first thing we 'll do, boys, when the snow breaks up, 'll be to go to Black Ledge, and hunt up the rest, if there are any more. There 's something worth looking into. I 'm confident of that, but I must not spend my time this way?" And the Doctor was off almost without a good-by.
The Doctor's prediction that Ally would soon weary of the stone was not fulfilled. Six long weeks the patient little creature lay on her bed, in the south window, under the abutilon canopy, and the mysterious crystal was her inseparable play-thing. When she was not holding it up and turning it over and over in the light, she kept it in sight, laying it always on the white spaces in the coverlet, and as far as possible from the scarlet; and I observed that when she was lying still, apparently in a reverie, her eyes were usually fastened upon the stone. We grew familiar with its strange electric and magnetic phenomena, and even amused ourselves by passing it rapidly from hand to hand after it had been heated by friction and by the sunlight.
As our superstitious uneasiness about it wore away, our interest in it diminished, and sometimes for weeks we did not think of it, except when Ally called our attention to its beauty or its mysterious powers. She still persisted in speaking of it as if it were alive, and caressing and loving it as if it could reciprocate all her affection.
"Stonie knows me now," she would often say. "He does not know any of the rest of you; you don't love him. He hardly ever pricks me now; he only purrs on my fingers."
It was an odd thing that Mrs. Allen never felt this sensation. Her nerves were so strong that the powerful influence, whatever it might be, produced no disturbance on the equipoise of her system, Jim was more sensitive to it than any one except Ally herself. He knew instantly on approaching Ally if she had been playing with the stone. He could tell with his eyes shut, by touching her hands, in which hand the stone lay; and he never entirely lost the first feeling of fear and repulsion with which we regarded the gem. He said again and again to me:—
"Will, I 'm ashamed of the feeling, but I do hate to have Ally keep that stone. I can't shake off a sort of presentiment that evil will some day come to her through it. I do wish it could be lost, but it is never away from her one second. At night she hides it under her pillow, and by day she carries it in her pocket. I do believe there is a spell about the thing."
"Well, it isn't a spell that does the child harm, anyhow," I always replied to him, "for certainly never in this world did a child grow strong and tall and beautiful faster than she is growing. You have it so firmly fixed in your head that she is n't a mortal child, like other children, that you can't see anything connected with her as it really is."
I was not conscious of the feeling, but a deep-rooted jealousy of Jim was already growing up in my heart, and distorting my thoughts of both him and Ally. Gentle and loving as she always was to every human being, there was a certain spontaneous, exuberant overflow of affection toward Jim, which made her manner to every one else seem cold by contrast. I was not sure, but it seemed to me that even dear Mrs. Allen felt this. I sometimes saw her eyes rest upon the two when they were frolicking together, with an expression of pain. The day came when I understood what that pain had meant.
Long before spring we had ceased to talk about going to Black Ledge to look for the magic stones, but Ally never forgot it. One bright day in April, when the drops falling from the eaves had melted a little circle around the roots of the lilac-tree, and brought to light a few tiny pale green shoots of grass, Ally turned from the window, and said to me:—
"Mr. Will, see, there is the ground again! Pretty soon the snow will be gone, and we can look for Stonie's friends. Poor Stonie! he would have been very lonely all winter if it had n't been for me. We 'll take him up with us, and he will show us the way."
"But, Ally, how can a stone show people the way? That 's a silly speech, little girl," said I.
"No, Mr. Will," she answered gravely. "It is n't silly, because it is true. Stonie won't show you, because he don't know you; but he will show me. He tells me a great many things when we are all alone together, don't you, Stonie?" And she took the little blue silk bag from her pocket and laid it against her cheek. As she did so her eyes dilated and her cheeks flushed, and again the uncomfortable sense of something supernatural in the stone, and in the bond between Ally and it, swept over me. "Who knows but Jim is right, after all! I wonder if we should love Ally any less if she did n't have that stone?" I said to myself, as I pondered her words and looks.
The thaw was rapid and general. Not for years had such a body of snow disappeared so quickly. The river rose alarmingly; even little pools became dangerous. A large part of the village was under water. One feeble old man was actually drowned at the foot of his own garden, and for a few hours there was great cause for alarm; but the waters fell as fast as they had risen; a high wind rose and blew steadily for three days, and at the end of a week the whole country lay bare and dry, with a tender green tint everywhere struggling through the brown.
Dr. Miller had not forgotten the trip to Black Ledge. While the freshet was at its height he ran in one morning to say, "Boys, if this lasts we can go to Black Ledge by Saturday. The snow 'll be all gone."
"And me, too?" said Ally. "Will you take me?"
"No, indeed, Pussy," said the Doctor. "It will be too wet and muddy."
"But you can't find Stonie's friends without me," said Ally. "I know you can't. Don't you know, Mr. Will, you could n't see Stonie, look all you could, and there he was right in plain sight all the time. Don't you remember?"
True, so it was. Again a vague distrust and fear flashed through my mind. It had seemed to me at the time inexplicable that, searching so carefully and long, I had not seen the stone. Ally continued: "It won't be of any use for you to go unless you take Stonie, at any rate. Perhaps he will tell you the way if I ask him to."
Dr. Miller looked at Ally with a surprised face.
"What nonsense is this you 're talking, Pussy?" he said.
"That 's just what Mr. Will said," replied Ally, archly, and yet with a strange earnestness in her tone. "Nobody believes that Stonie knows me and tells me things, but he does. Some day you 'll all believe it."
"Pshaw—what a notional little woman it is, to be sure," laughed the Doctor, patting her on the head, as he hurried out.
"Never mind. You 'll see," said Ally quietly, putting back into her pocket the blue silk bag which she had been fingering dreamily while she talked.
Saturday was clear and bright. We set out early. Ally made no request to be taken with us, but watched all our movements with intense interest. I observed that she had the blue silk bag in her hand and raised it often to her cheek. She bade us good-by very quietly, but, as we cleared the gate, we heard her call, "Doctor, brother Jim, wait a minute," and she came flying down the walk, with the blue silk bag in her hand. "Here, Doctor," she said "you must take Stonie. You can't find the way without him. He has told me where his friends are; and I have asked him to tell you, There are n't any more of them on the old tree-root. You need n't look there. Most of them are down deep, and you 'll have to dig; but there are some up on the very tip-top of the rocks. I know just how they look there. Stonie showed me."
The Doctor laughed and dropped the little bag in his pocket, saying, "I 'll take good care of your Stonie," and Ally ran back, kissing her hands to us all
"She 's a most fanciful child," he said, as we walked on; "that imagination of hers will give her trouble some of these days; though she 's got a splendid physique to offset it."
"Are you sure it is all her imagination about this stone, sir?" asked Jim, hesitatingly.
Dr. Miller stopped, turned, and looked Jim squarely in the face. "God bless my soul, boy, what else do you suppose it is? You 're as bad as the child, upon my word. They don't teach a belief in witchcraft at your college, do they? I 'll be bound Will here don't believe any such nonsense," turning to me.
I felt my face grow red, and my answer was as hesitating as Jim's question.
"No, sir; I don t believe it exactly, but it is very odd how Ally—"
"Ha! ha!" chuckled the Doctor. "It is n't at all odd how Ally— But you two are beginning rather young to see through a woman's eyes. Let it alone, boys, let it alone, only torment comes of it;" and the Doctor fell into a reverie, such as we had often seen him in before, and which we knew better than to interrupt.
It was a wet and ugly climb up Black Ledge that morning. In the hollows of the rocks and under the giant oaks there still lay patches of slippery snow and ice; but the air was soft and balmy, and one blue hepatica welcomed us. It was growing almost under the trunk of the fallen tree in whose root Ally had found the stone.
"Ally said it was n't of any use to look here," said Jim, unthinkingly.
Dr. Miller looked at him almost severely.
"Youngster," says he, "are n't you a little ashamed of yourself?"
"Yes, sir, a good deal," replied Jim, frankly enough to disarm the most contemptuous critic. "A good deal. But I can't help it. I do believe, if we find the stones at all, we shall find them where Ally said they were."
"And I suppose you believe, too, that this stone here"—tapping his waistcoat pocket,—"told her where its 'friends,' as she calls them, were?" said the Doctor, with kind, twinkling, compassionate eyes. "Poor boy—if Ally, at ten, does this to your senses, what 'll she do to you six years hence?"
"Love me, I hope," said Jim, "as well as she does now. She 's all I 've got in the world, Dr. Miller, and please don't laugh at me any more. You would n't if you knew how I love that child, would he, Will?"
"No," said I, pretending to laugh. "It 's no laughing matter, Doctor."
But the words, "She 's all I have got in this world," echoed strangely in my ears. Dear, generous Jim; how little our boys' hearts could have dreamed in that hour of the barrier into which those few words were destined to be built!
We searched long around the roots of the old tree. I think Dr. Miller was determined to falsify Ally's prediction by finding the stones there.
"That one stone could n't have been all alone," he said. "There 's no such thing in nature; there must be more where that came from."
"But, Dr. Miller," said I, "that one was in a crevice of the roots; it probably came from deep down in the earth," and I showed him, as nearly as I could recollect, where the stone had lain. He examined the earth on the roots very carefully, and we looked for the cavity from which the tree had come, but there was no trace of it. Probably many years had elapsed since the storm which uprooted the old oak. "It might have grown a long way farther up the hill for all we can tell," said the Doctor, scratching his head and looking puzzled.
At this instant we heard loud shouts from Jim He had spent very few minutes looking in the vicinity of the old tree, but had climbed rapidly up the ledge, and had been out of sight for some time.
"Oh, Will! Will! Doctor! Doctor! Hurry!" he cried, in tones so shrill and earnest, that I feared he was in trouble.
"He 's found them, I do believe," exclaimed the Doctor, and we ran breathlessly up the steep and slippery rocks.
On the very top of the ledge knelt Jim,—his hands clasped.
"Oh, look, look!" he exclaimed. "Was not Ally right?"
We stood still in amazement. Glistening, sparkling in the sun, there lay dozens of crystals as if they had been just thrown down by some careless hand.
"I have n't touched one," said Jim; "I did n't dare to."
Dr. Miller did not speak for some moments. Then he cried out:—
"By Jove, I 'd like to know whether we 're in Maine or in Brazil! It looks as if we 'd been living at the foot of an emerald mine all our days, and might have gone on living so if it had n't been for that blessed child. However, somebody had to find it out sooner or later. Pitch in, boys, pitch in, we 'll get all we can this trip. The whole town 'll be up here to-morrow, for I take it we have n't got any right to keep it to ourselves. Nobody 's ever thought of owning Black Ledge. I guess my line comes up higher 'n anybody's but I 'm a good way down yonder; this is the town's property up here."
Eagerly, silently, with an undercurrent of consciousness that we were coming very close to some strange secret of nature, we gathered up the crystals. There were many of great beauty, but none so fine as the first-found one, Ally's "Stonie." Many of them were broken; some looked as if they had crumbled slowly into fragments; but all were transparent, brilliant, and of colors of ineffable beauty,—dark green, light green, pink, yellow, blue, rose-red and white.
It seemed utterly incredible that such treasures could long have been lying exposed on this hill-top.
"I don't suppose there are many villages where it could have happened," said Dr. Miller, "but there is n't a man or woman in this town that would ever think of walking a rod for pleasure, except me, and I 'm too busy always to get so far from home 's this. I suppose I 've looked up at this Black Ledge a hundred times and resolved to come up here at sunset some night, but I never have. I guess I 'm glad I did n't. It 's worth a good deal more to come on it this way, with you boys along, and that Ally down below waiting."
"Oh, what will she say? What will she say?" exclaimed I.
"She won't be surprised," said Jim. "She 's known it all winter. She told me a long time ago that there were ever so many up here; that Stonie said so. And she says: 'You know that the most of them are down deep;' that we 'd only find a few on the top."
"So she did; so she did," said the Doctor, unconscious of the amount of confidence in Ally betrayed by his reply. "It 's odd how the child knew; but that 's the way it must be. These crystals have been formed deep down among these rock. I don't know what has laid them bare. It takes ages for rocks to decompose, but this looks like it. We 'll dig down just at the base of these biggest rocks. This soil has washed down round them."
In our first wonder and delight at the crystals, we had scarcely observed the rocks; but in looking more closely, we found that they, too, were of rare beauty. There were great masses of a rose-red stone, magnificent rocks of quartz, and shining surfaces of mica. On the cold gray of the granite ledge these glittering colors stood out in sharp relief, and produced an effect of design in spite of all the chaotic confusion.
"I believe the gods began a temple here once," said Jim, "and left their jewels behind them."
"Quit Maine for want of worshipers," chuckled the Doctor, as he tugged away at his digging. Suddenly he threw down his spade, fell on his knees and began fumbling in the loose earth with his fingers.
More crystals! We looked on in speechless astonishment The cavity into which his spade had broken was some two feet deep. The bottom was filled with sand, and loose in this sand, as if they had been packed in it for safe keeping, lay many crystals of the finest colors we had yet seen. Their shapes were not perfect, and many of them were cracked or fissured as if they had been at some time exposed to the grinding of other stones upon them, but the colors were superb. Carefully we sifted the cavity to the very bottom, not leaving a single fragment of the gems in it. By this time the sun was well down in the western sky.
"We really must go home, boys," said the Doctor; "they will be anxious about us, and I am hungry; and you ought to be, though you are not," he added, scanning our excited faces with a professional eye.
Hungry!—we had no more thought of hunger than we should have in Aladdin's palace. Our eyes were so feasted that the whole body seemed fed. It was simply impossible to carry down the ledge all the crystals and crystal-bearing fragments of rock we had collected. We hid some of the least beautiful specimens under the old tree-root, and we were then so heavily burdened that the walk home was a serious toil. Ally was at the window watching for us. At the first sight of our overloaded arms she clapped her hands and bounded to open the door.
"Oh, I 'm so glad, so glad!" she exclaimed, jumping up and down, and springing first to one, then to another. "I thought Stonie would help you."
"You foolish Pussy," exclaimed Dr. Miller, "we 've got a hundred stones just like him."
"No," said Ally, gravely, "you have not got any just like him. There is not one among them all just like him."
"By Jove, she 's right," muttered the Doctor, as we slowly set down our loads; "there is n't one just like hers."
"I told you so. I said she knew all about them," whispered Jim, under his breath.
We spent the whole evening in sorting and arranging the stones; they seemed more and more beautiful the more we studied them. There were no two alike; very few of them were perfect in shape, but they were all of superb colors. There was not one, however, which was so large, so regularly shaped and beautifully tinted as Ally's Stonie. As we held up crystal after crystal, exclaiming, "This is a perfect one!" "Oh, this is the most beautiful of all!" Ally would place hers by the side of it, and without saying one word, look an arch interrogation. When the last crystal was laid in its place, she said, quietly:—
"Stonie is king. These are his people. But there are many more in the hill."
"How does thee know, dear?" asked Mrs. Allen. "Can thee tell me how it is?"
"Stonie tells me, mother," replied Ally.
"But how does he tell thee?" said Mrs. Allen, humoring the child's fancy by speaking of the stone as she herself did. "He does not speak in words. He makes no sound."
Ally looked perplexed. "No," she said, slowly, "I know that. But he likes me. He makes me see."
This was all the explanation she could ever give of the way in which she received impressions by means of the magnetic stone—"He makes me see." The next morning we inclosed a few of the smaller crystals in a letter and sent them to the Professor of Geology in our college, giving him a full account of the crystals, and of the locality where we had found them.
How anxiously we awaited his reply. Our brains teemed with the wildest hopes and projects; even Dr. Miller built air-castles, in which rubies and emeralds made walls and floors. The whole village was in a ferment of excitement. Black Ledge swarmed thick with eager crystal hunters. Many beautiful specimens were found, but no more of the perfectly formed crystals like ours. At last the letter came. Jim and I ran with it to Dr. Miller's office, and we read it together. It was long and full.
Our crystals were not emeralds, not rubies. They were tourmalines. The mineral was a rare one. Early in the eighteenth century, some experiments had been made before the French Academy, showing the wonderful electric properties of the stone, and for a few years considerable interest had been taken in the subject. But, owing to the scarcity of the gems, the investigations had not been continued, and even at the present day the stone was almost unknown, except to professional mineralogists.
Commercially, the gem had no fixed value. A superb group of them, which had been presented to the British Ambassador to the Burmese Empire, in 1795, and was now in the British Museum, had been valued at one thousand pounds sterling. The deep red variety, when clear and flawless, would command the price of rubies. It had been surmised that the famous ruby in one of the diadems of the Russian crown jewels was a species of tourmaline. The Professor concluded his kind letter by heartily congratulating us on our discovery, and thanking us, in the name of the college, for the specimens we had sent. He also offered to put us in communication with some amateur collectors in Europe, if we wished to dispose of the remaining crystals. As these were the only ones which had been discovered in America, he believed that they would be largely sought after.
"Well, they re not real jewels after all, then," said the Doctor, drawing a long sigh. "I did hope they 'd turn out to be a fortune for somebody. But I don't care to dabble with the amateur collectors the Professor talks about. I 've had one such man on my farm already after bird tracks. I never made anything out of him. You can have all my share, boys; but I think you 'd better send some of the very handsomest specimens to the college, don't you? Those little fellows we put in the letter were n't anything. If the British Museum has got one five-thousand dollar specimen, 't aint anyways likely they want another. It 's easy enough, though, to 'value' a thing at five thousand dollars, when a grand Mogul of the Burmese Empire's given it to you for nothing. I can set one of these big quartz rocks with the green crystals in it up on my mantelpiece and 'value' it at five thousand dollars, too, any day."
We were crestfallen and disappointed; but the romance remained, though the hopes of pecuniary gain had departed. There was something in the very word tourmalines, Jim said, which went far to reconcile him to their not being rubies, and we felt somehow linked to the past century, to the French Academy, and to the Russian Empire,—we boys in the heart of Maine who could amuse ourselves of an evening with handfuls of gems such as savants had vainly desired to possess and Empresses had worn.
When we read the letter aloud at home, Mrs. Allen looked at her husband with so significant an expression, and he returned it with one so full of earnest meaning, that I exclaimed:—
"Dear Dominie, dear Mrs. Allen, what is it?"
Mrs. Allen did not speak. The Dominie glanced at her before replying. Then he said:—
"My son, our hearts were much troubled at the new thoughts which these jewels had brought into the life of our household. We do not desire money for ourselves; we fear it for those we love. We must grieve that your hopes are cast down, but we cannot help being glad that the chief mission of the wonderful stones is, after all, nothing more than to give us all one farther glimpse into the wonders of God's house in which we dwell."
Jim sprang from his seat, went to the Dominie, took his hand reverently in both of his, and pressed it without speaking. The Dominie's words had gone to the very bottom of his heart.
"God bless you, my son," said the Dominie. "When your hair is as white as mine you will think as I think."
"I do now, sir," said Jim, in a low voice, "and I believe I should think the same if I had not been rich."
"Much you can tell about that, old fellow," said I. "Wait till you 've had to go without half the things you wanted for years and years. You 're just like a blind man talking about colors."
"The Dominie and mother have had to go without most things they wanted," said Jim, impulsively.
The two aged lovers again exchanged glances. This time it was Mrs. Allen who spoke.
"Nay, not so. We have not gone without the things we have not had. But that is something thee cannot understand yet," and the placid, tender eyes turned to Ally involuntarily.
Ally had listened with absorbed interest to the reading of the letter and to the conversation which followed. Her face showed that not one of the ideas escaped her comprehension. The mental growth of this child in the last six months had been simply wonderful. In technical and text-book knowledge she was still far behind most children of her age, and must, of course, continue to be so for a long time. The lost years of her sad, untrained childhood could not easily be made up. But, on the other hand, every moment of her life now contained true education; and her susceptibility to influence was so exquisite that each new germ of thought sprang up quickly, bearing its hundred fold. Except for the innate gayety of her temperament, and for her fine English physique, she would have been in danger of becoming an introverted and too thoughtful child. But the mirthful heart and the abounding animal life saved her.
As Mrs. Allen finished speaking, Ally came slowly to the table, drawing the blue silk bag from her pocket.
"I would like to send Stonie to the gentleman who wrote that letter. Stonie is king, and ought to go," she said.
"Can you spare Stonie?" asked Jim, tenderly. "You will miss him very much, little one."
"I can have another all for my own, can't I?" said Ally, anxiously.
"Why, yes, pet, a dozen, if you want them," replied Jim; "but they won't be like Stonie. There is n't one just like him."
"I know that," said Ally. "There is n't one in all the hill just like him. But he is king; he ought to go, and he wants to go, too. He has told me so."
With a tender, lingering touch she laid the beloved crystal down on the paper where we had already placed some of the specimens to be sent to the Professor. It was, indeed, king of them all. Both ends of the crystal were perfectly formed. It was transparent and flawless throughout. Two thirds of its length were vivid green; the other third rose-pink. At the green summit was a layer of solid opaque white, looking like a cap, though only a line wide. In no other specimen did we see any trace of such a formation of white.
"That is Stonie's snow crown," said Ally, laying her finger on the white end of the crystal. "You see none of the rest have crowns."
She found it hard to make a choice. She tested every stone by laying it against her cheek.
"I want one with a voice like Stonie," she said.
We were so accustomed now to this strange manner of speaking of the stone that we treated it merely as a child's fancy for thinking a toy alive. But there was much more in it than we knew. At last she made her selection,—two of the longest and slenderest crystals, of precisely the same length, one solid green, the other green and red.
"Are these too nice for me to have?" she asked timidly. "They are the best of all you have."
"You generous pussy," exclaimed Dr. Miller, "as if you had n't given us the very gem of the whole."
"Oh, Stonie was n't really mine!—only to keep for a little while," said Ally. "He was king."
The next day Dr. Miller was to set out on a long journey to the West, and he proposed to deliver our precious package of tourmalines, with his own hands, to the Professor.
"I 'd like to tell him, too, about you boys," he said, roguishly. "If I report all your misconduct faithfully, he 'll get your sentence extended another six months."
"Oh, if he only would!" we both exclaimed. "We do hate to go away."
The time was very near—only four weeks more. We could not bear to hear any one mention the days of the month. They sounded in our ears like the notes of a clock striking hour after hour of a happy day. Oh, the marvel of this thing which we call time!—which is, and which is not; a moment of which can seem like an eternity of pain! an eternity of which can seem too short for a moment of joy?
Some weeks after Dr. Miller's departure I observed, one morning at breakfast, that Ally was unusually grave.
"What is it Ally? What are you thinking about?" said I.
"Stonie," she replied, in a sad voice.
"Do you want him back? I was afraid you would," said Jim
"Oh, no, brother Jim. It is n't that;" and the child's lip trembled.
"What is it, then? Do tell me, dear," exclaimed Jim, his face full of trouble, as it always was at sight of an instant's unhappiness on Ally's.
"I can't," said Ally; "I don't know. It 's Stonie. When will Dr. Miller come home?"
"Why, not for three weeks yet, Ally," replied Jim; "but he has n't got Stonie now. Stonie 's safe in a great big box on high legs, with a glass cover to it, by this time." And he tried to divert her mind by telling her about the college cabinets. She listened absently, and at last shaking her head, and saying, "Stonie is n't there," she slipped from Jim's lap and walked slowly away.
That night there came a letter to Jim in a hand writing he did not know. He glanced at the signature, and exclaimed:—
"Oh, the good Doctor! He 's written to tell us about the tourmalines!"
As he read the letter his face lengthened. I did not interrupt him with any question, but I said to myself:—
"The tourmalines are lost, and Ally knew it this morning. I wish we 'd never heard of the things, anyhow. They 're bewitched."
Presently he threw the letter to me, saying, "Read that, Will. I don't care about the confounded stones, but I 'd rather run a gauntlet of wild Indians than tell Ally. Hang the thing! I wish we 'd never seen Black Ledge."
Dr. Miller's letter was highly characteristic:—
To our great relief Ally took the news of the loss of "Stonie" very quietly. She was prepared for it.
"I knew something had happened," she said, "but it is no matter. Stonie will be king, you know, wherever he is. I dare say he did not want to be shut up in that box you told me about."
When we were alone Mrs. Allen said quietly to Jim:—
"I am very glad thee was discreet enough not to read before the child the Doctor's suspicions of Mr. Bunker. She has gratitude to him and Mrs. Bunker, and I would be sorry to have it disturbed, I fear that the Doctor is right. There was all the essence of dishonesty in the manner in which he spent thy hundred dollars for Ally."
Our sorrow at the loss of the tourmalines was soon swallowed up in our grief at the near prospect of going back to college. To leave Ally and Mrs. Allen and the Dominie was harder to me than it had ever been to leave my own home; and, as for Jim, poor boy, it was the first home he had ever known.
"If I were n't ashamed, Will," he said, "I 'd quit college and turn my back on the world and settle down here with Dominie."
"What to do, Jim?" said I. "Study and hunt, and teach Ally till she 's old enough for me to take her to Europe, replied he with kindling face. "I believe I 'd know more at the end of six years that way than I will now. College is an infernal humbug, Will, and you know it as well as I do. Have n't we learnt more in these six months with Dominie than in all the rest of our lives put together? Anyhow, I 'm thankful Ally 's got such a home. Blessed little angel, how could I ever have thought of her being marched up and down the streets in those processions of boarding-school girls, and learning to flirt with the students. It makes me feel like knocking these country fellows down now whenever I see them looking at her, and I don't know what I 'd do with her at college."
"Break a dozen fellow's heads every term, I expect, old boy,—what with the ones that made love to her, and the ones that chaffed you about her," laughed I.
"Chaffed me about Ally!" exclaimed Jim. "What do you mean, Will? Who ever heard of a man being chaffed about his sister?"
"Nobody," said I satirically; "but Ally happens not to be your sister."
"Will, it 's just the same as if my father and mother had adopted her instead of me; exactly the same. She is my sister, I tell you," said Jim emphatically.
"There is n't any same as brother about kisses," came into my head, but I forebore to quote the words. My heart was already sorer than I knew how to explain, by reason of this little maiden's exclusive love for her brother Jim.
The dreaded day came swiftly, as only dreaded days can; it was a sunny May morning. To go away by stage from a home one sorrows to leave is infinitely harder than to go in any other way. There is such a mockery of good cheer, of a pleasure drive, in the prancing of the horses eager to be off. There is such a refinement of cruelty in the Composure of the driver, waiting whip in hand for you to decide for yourself when the last words have been said, the last kiss taken. There is such a prolongation of the pain of last looks, as at turn after turn of the winding road you discover that you can still see the dear forms on the doorstep, or the gleam of the home through the trees. The authoritative "All aboard" of the conductor, and the pitiless shriek of the steam-engine at the railway station, are mercies for those who find it hard to part. All this I thought as we rode away from the beloved parsonage, looking back and back again between the pink apple-tree tops to the group of loved ones in the door-way. The parting had been singularly brief and quiet. Mrs. Allen's placid brown eyes were full of tears, but her last words were simply, to both Jim and me: "Thee will write, thee will write often;" and the Dominie's voice shook a little as he said, "God keep you, my boys. Remember that this is your home always."
Ally spoke no word; she kissed first me, then Jim, with a swift kiss quite unlike her usual clinging, loving kisses, and then turned her head away and hid it in the lilac boughs. The clusters of purple flowers bent down and rested on her golden Hair as if to soothe her. All I could see of her face was the patient, sweet mouth, which was firmer shut than usual.
And so we went back into the world again: the city, the college, the men, the women, all seemed unspeakably strange, and the strangeness did not wear off. For weeks our feeling was not so much one of homesickness as of bewilderment. No foreigners in a strange land ever found the atmosphere of their lives newer, more inharmonious. The very speech jarred on our ears. For six months we had heard but three voices, and those singularly low, sweet, rich.
"Oh, Will, is this the same language they used to speak at the Dominie's?" exclaimed Jim, in the middle of our first breakfast at our boarding-house; "I can't stand it! It is like jews-harps. It never sounded like this before."
"How have you ever made out to live through the winter in that outlandish place, Mr. Ordway?" at this instant called our spinster landlady in shrill tones from her high seat at the head of the table; "I assure you we have all sympathized with you deeply."
Jim's look of surprise was almost an angry stare.
"I was never so happy in my life, madam," he retorted, "and I assure you this place is the outlandish one and not that!"
Significant looks were exchanged among the boys at this outbreak. "Oh, Jim, be quiet," I whispered; "the boys will chaff you to death if you make such speeches."
"Yes, I 'm a fool, Will," he answered, under his breath, and then, resuming his more courteous tone, he endeavored to soothe the ancient maiden's resentment and disarm suspicion by a graphic account of the beauty of the winter in northern Maine, and of the rare characters we had found in Parson Allen and his wife.
But the mischief was done. College boys do not easily lose sight of the clew to a possible joke, and the secret of Jim Ordway's attachment to Maine was the staple of current banter for months. I was not there long to help poor Jim bear and baffle it. In the third week of the term I was called home by the sudden death of my father. His business was left in disastrous confusion, and the only chance of saving the property seemed to lie in my giving up my college education and going into the counting-house. It was a severe test for a boy eighteen years old, but I never regretted that it devolved upon me. I was better suited for a business life than for any other, and the four years of college would not have been sufficient help to me in it to have compensated for the delay. Here, therefore, the currents of life divided me from Jim. After four years—three at school and one at college—in which we had lived like brothers, we were now thrown widely apart.
The separation was much harder to Jim than to me. As I said in the beginning of my story, I have always wondered why I did not love him better. His idealistic, dreamy, poetic, impulsive nature had great fascination for me, but with the fascination was mingled a certain impatience, almost scorn, of his lack of practicality, and an element of pity which is fatal to the strongest love between man and man. It was only in a woman's nature that I could wholly love the combination of qualities which made Jim the sweet-souled fellow he was, and made him dearer to almost everybody than he could ever be to me, whom he loved with his whole heart. Yet I feel a sharp sense of disloyalty, in writing these words, in acknowledging even to myself this fatal flaw in my regard for him. He was so pure, so unselfish, so true; he lived habitually on so much higher a plane of thought than I did, that I always felt in his presence that the flaw was in me, rather than in him, that my love could not grow warmer. His gentle, affectionate sweetness, his enthusiastic sympathy, moved me greatly. But the instant he was gone from my sight my consciousness of the lack in his nature returned in undiminished vividness, and I knew that I must forever receive far more affection than I could give, in my relations with him.
The story of the next three years is summed up in a few words. Jim was faithfully working away in the college routine, which he more than half despised, but would not let himself abandon. I was working alone and unhelped, as men work in a shipwreck, striving to save the remains of my father's little property. It was a terrible strain, and has told on my whole life. I used up in those years physical capital which could never be replaced, but I gained a business knowledge and capacity which no less severe training could have given me. In saving my father's hundreds I learned to make my own thousands, and I am content. Jim wrote very often. I wrote seldom. This was partly because of my temperament, partly because I was so overworked. Through him I heard from the dear home in Maine, and through him sent to them my warm recollections; but after the letters at the time of my father's death I left off writing directly to him. This, again, was partly because of my temperament, partly because I was so overworked; but partly, also, because I had an instinctive consciousness that the thought of Ally must not become an element in my daily life. Strange that in the boy's heart the man's instinct should have been so strong; should have so recognized in the little unformed child the mature woman; should have had so prophetic a sense of all which lay hid far, far in the future! When the news of my misfortune reached the parsonage, Mrs. Allen and the Dominie each wrote me a loving and sympathizing letter. Mrs. Allen said:—
"Thee knows that we ourselves set little store by money, nevertheless we can sorrow with those who lose it. If it is best for thee to have riches, it is very easy for the Lord to lay them in thy hands."
Enclosed in the letter was a small bit of paper, on which Ally had printed in large and angular letters:—
"Dear Mr. Will,—I am very sorry for you to have to go away from brother Jim.
"I would kiss you if you were here.
I have this precious bit of paper now; the letters are faded, and the paper is worn thin and ragged; it is many years old. Jim's letters were full of Ally, especially during his vacations, which were always spent at the parsonage. Sometimes he was grieved at my seeming lack of sympathy about the child. He once wrote:—
"I don't know if I bore you about Ally. You never ask a question about her, and sometimes I think you have forgotten our life in the old parsonage, you say so little of them all. But it don't seem like you, Will, to leave off loving anybody that loves you, and they all do love you just as well to-day as the day we rode off together on the stage. If you don't care about them as you used to, and would rather not hear so much about them, do tell me, so I need n't write it any more."
Leave off loving! No, it was not like me. In my reply to this letter I said:—
"I hope you will never think, because I do not speak of or to people, that I have ceased to love them. I do not love you, or Dominie, or Mrs. Allen, or Ally any less than I did three years ago. You will never learn, I suppose, that words are not with me natural expressions of feeling."
Jim was relieved, but not satisfied.
"I cannot doubt the truth of all you say, dear Will," he replied, "but I wish it had a different sound to it, somehow."
Ah, the "sound to it!" How many a heart like my faithful Jim's, has half broken for the lack of a certain "sound" to words which were spoken in all loyalty and affection, and really meant all which the aching, listening heart craved, but could not learn to understand in any other language than its own!
This letter was just before Jim's graduation. I had promised to be present at the Commencement. The Dominie and Mrs. Allen and Ally were all to be there, and perhaps Jim's dearly beloved old guardian. Jim's heart was over-full with delight and anticipation. His letters made even me, prosaic, calm-blooded man that I was, feel like laughing and crying together.
"Oh, you dear old Will!" he wrote; "will you just think of what currents are coming together next week? Guardy hasn't seen Mrs. Allen for thirty or forty years, and I know he used to love her—I know it by lots of things; and you have n't seen Ally for almost four years. I shan't tell you a word about her, only just you be prepared to lose your breath, that 's all. I will tell you one thing, though. She 's almost as tall as I am, Will! What do you think of that for a girl of fourteen? Oh, I 'm proud of her! And you, old fellow, have you got such a beard I shan't know you? Oh, but I 'm afraid I shall cry! Hang it all! I wish there was n't such a streak of woman in me."
Ally, almost as tall as Jim! I could not form any such fancy of her.
She lived in my mind, always in one picture; a little bounding child, with a wreath of scarlet oak-leaves over her shoulders, and golden curls shining in the wind; and whenever I recalled this picture, I recalled as vividly the sharp thrill of electric heat which shot up my arm as I took from her tiny hand the red and green crystal. My life during these three years at home had been so secluded, so dull, so hard, that the memory of the winter at the parsonage was in no danger of being effaced by new impressions. On the contrary, it but brightened day by day. The traveler cannot forget the oasis while he is still in the desert. My mother and sisters were good women. I loved them dutifully, but they gave me no joy; they invested life with no grace, no exhilaration, no stimulus; they were, like me, affectionate, realistic, faithful, plodding; except that I had known Mrs. Allen, had breathed the atmosphere of her house, I should have accepted them as types of the highest sort of women—so true, loyal, upright, steadfast were they; but, I had learned the gospel of a new dispensation; I had been led up to heights whose air had expanded any spiritual nature as the air of great altitudes expands the lungs. All the more that I comprehended my own incapacity to create or even fully understand the atmosphere of an idealized life, I felt that I needed it, and knew that I longed for it. Hour by hour, in these long three years, while Jim had suspected me of forgetting the dear ones at the parsonage, I had yearned for them with a yearning born of such need and loss as Jim could never have felt, and never have borne. I hesitated long whether I should go to the Commencement. The promise had been of such long standing it seemed an obligation; and well I knew that Jim's loving heart would be wounded to the quick, if I failed. My inmost instinct warned me against going, told me that after a week in such companionship it would be only the harder to return to the associations and the burdens of my inevitable life: on the other hand, it seemed a selfish thing to deprive my friends of a pleasure solely to save myself a pain. "Supposing life is made a little harder," I said to myself, bitterly, "what then! I can bear it." Oh, how worthless a faculty is imagination when we use it to gauge an untried burden! As well ask the eagle's vision to measure the load that a beast of burden may draw!
I went to the Commencement. An accident to a train delayed me many hours, and I did not arrive until nearly noon of the Commencement day. The exercises had begun some two hours before. The church was filled to overflowing. To enter by the doors was simply impossible. A step-ladder had been set at an open window on the left hand of the pulpit, and by this the guests who were to have seats on the platform had climbed up. From this window I could see the whole house. I had not stood there many minutes before I caught Jim's eye. He was in the second row of pews, in front of the platform, looking no more like a senior than he did the day we were rusticated for our freshman frolic. Dear, child-hearted man. Not a line of beard on his cheek; not a trace of wordliness in his face; every line, every feature, full of spirituality, enthusiasm, simplicity.
When he caught my eye his whole face flushed, and he involuntarily half rose from his seat; then recollecting himself, he sank back with a comic look of despair, and began to make signals to me which I could not in the least comprehend. In my absorbed attention to these signals, I did not observe that I was obstructing the entrance to the platform, and that some one was waiting to pass me. Suddenly, I heard a low voice saying, "Will you have the kindness, sir, to let my father pass?" and the old electric shock flashed up my arm like fire. Without turning my head I knew that it was Ally who had spoken, and that she had the Tourmaline in her possession. I sprang back. She lifted her beautiful brown eyes to me as calmly as to a stranger, thanked me, and stretched out her hand to Dominie, saying: "Come down here, father, we have kept a seat for you."
Dominie also looked in my face as in the face of a stranger, and bowed courteously as he passed. Then for the first time I realized what the years had done to my face. But how then should Jim have known me so instantly? A sudden sense of aggrieved pain stole over me. I said to myself: "They would have known me if they had not forgotten my face." As Dominie took his seat, I heard him say to Ally:—
"He has not come. It is very strange. I am afraid there is some accident."
I knew then that he had been to the station to meet me. The temptation was very strong to make myself known, but the temptation to study Ally's face for a few hours unobserved was still stronger.
To say that she was the most beautiful human creature I had ever seen seems to desecrate her. Comparison between Ally and other women was impossible. Moment by moment as I looked at her I grew incredulous of my eyes. Was that a girl fourteen years old? Was that the outcast child fostered in a lonely New England village by the village pastor's wife? It was a woman of such superb stature that one half inch more of height would have made her look masculine. It was a woman of such self-poise of manner and bearing—such elegance of dress—that out of America one would have thought her of some royal house. If she had had no beauty, the elegance and the grace of her bearing would have produced the effect of it; but what words can describe the charm produced by the combination of these with beauty which more than fulfilled the promise of her childhood? There were the same soft yet brilliant brown eyes, the same exquisite complexion, the same golden-yellow curls. The curls were no longer falling on her neck, but no looping could wholly confine them. I could have sworn that one which drooped and fluttered on her right shoulder was the very one I had so often threatened to cut off. The expression of her face was singularly like that of Jim's. I had sometimes noticed this at the parsonage, but now the resemblance had deepened. There was the same simplicity, spirituality, enthusiasm. There was, however, in spite of the enthusiasm, an expression of placid repose, which Jim's face had not. In this her face was like Mrs. Allen's, and no one seeing them sitting there side by side could have failed to suppose them mother and daughter. Mrs. Allen's face had grown wrinkled and thinner, and yet so tender and holy was its beauty that it did not suffer by contrast with the fresh young bloom at its side.
Ally's dress was black, of a fine transparent material. A wide, floating scarf of the same, quaintly embroided in tiny poppies of scarlet and gold, was thrown over her shoulders. Her bonnet was of the finest black lace, its only ornament two scarlet poppies and one golden bud. It was a toilette an Indian princess might have worn if she had also been a poet.
"Jim must have sent to Paris for that for her," said I to myself. "Lucky fellow that he is with his money!" I was wrong. It was a toilette that Ally had devised, and her own hands had wrought the poppies in scarlet and gold.
The President rolled out his sonorous Latin sentences; my old classmates came and went on the stage; disquisitions, discussions, orations, were all alike to me. I heard the words as one hears words in a dream. I was fully conscious of but one sense, and that was the sense of Ally's personality. It was not the fascination of her beauty; it was, as it always remained, the vivid sense of her as of an expansion of my consciousness of myself. This is the nearest analysis which words can give of the bond which held me to Ally. As I stood with my eyes dreamily fixed on the scarlet and gold poppies of her scarf, I recalled the wealth of scarlet oak-leaves which she had worn on that autumn morning, and I knew that the two hours were linked together by a bond as enduring as eternity. While I was thinking of the strange coincidence in material color of these two most vivid pictures in my brain, I was suddenly conscious of another sharp, electric thrill; not running as before, up my arm, but seeming to come from the floor beneath my feet. It was very sharp,—so sharp that I involuntarily leaned against the wall to steady myself for a second and shut my eyes. When I opened them I saw that Ally's head was turned; she seemed to be eagerly looking for some one, yet the expression was not wholly one of expectancy; it was of a vague anxiety. Her eyes moved slowly from face to face in the seats behind her. As they came nearer and nearer to me my heart beat violently. Was she about to know me at last? Had the tourmaline bond revealed me to her? Her eyes met mine. I had resolved that no change in my face should assist the recognition, but I felt the blood mount to my temples, and I could no more have withdrawn my eyes from hers than I could have lifted the old church in my arms. For a second her eyes fell under mine, then she lifted them again with the old appealing look which I remembered so well, her cheeks flushed, and a reproachful expression gathered around her mouth. If she had said: "I know it is you; how can you be so cruel, pretending not to know me?" it could not have been plainer. I smiled, and in one second there broke all over her face a light of rosy color and laughing gladness, and turning to Mrs. Allen and the Dominie, she spoke one eager word, pointing to me. In a moment more the dear old Dominie had my hands in his, and, too regardless of the place, we were talking breathlessly. It was well for us that an intermission in the exercises arrived at that moment. Once the barriers of my incognito were broken down, words could not come fast enough.
"I am very glad to see thee once more," were all the words of welcome Mrs. Allen spoke, but the eyes said more. And Ally, beautiful Ally, how shall I describe the myriad ways in which the child heart spoke through the woman's eyes and voice! The three years interval seemed obliterated in her consciousness; it was again "Brother Jim" and "Mr. Will," and the glad, merry, loving old life seemed to be going on, as fresh and untrammeled as ever, there on the platform of the old meeting house, and under the eyes of hundreds of people.
"I knew you were here some time ago, Mr. Will," said Ally.
"How, Ally?" said I. She colored, but did not reply. "You have spoken to me once this morning, and did not know me," I continued. "That made it hard for me to be sure you knew me just now."
"Oh, no, Mr. Will," she said, earnestly. "That is not possible. I knew your face the instant I saw it. I had been looking slowly into all the faces near me to find you. I had been looking for an hour. I knew when you came in, I think."
It was probable, then, that when I had believed her eyes were lifted to my face, they were really fastened on Dominie, who was close behind me, and she did not see me at all. As I sat near her, the folds of her dress touching my feet; again the sharp electric thrill flashed from the floor to my brain. I bent over her and whispered,
"Ally, do you carry Stonie in your pocket?"
"Oh, no, not Stonie. He was lost, you know But I have Stonie's two friends here;" and she threw back her scarf and pointed to the two tourmalines hanging at her belt. They were fastened together by a twisted silver wire in shape of a cross, and swung by a long loop of the wire from her belt clasp
"I keep them always with me," she went on. "I am just as much a baby as ever about them. Do you recollect?"
"Yes," I said.
"Well, it is just so now. Mamma thinks I shall outgrow it, but I do not believe I shall grow any more. Do you, Mr. Will?" she said with delicious archness. "And if I do, I believe the crystals will keep on telling me things as long as I live. If I put my hands on them I feel their power, and I can see things while I am touching them—things which are happening away from me. But mamma does not like to have me talk about it to any one. So I never do."
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Jim, "Tourmalines again! I 'll cut them off your belt some day, Ally. They bewitch you and make you too bewitching, and she is bewitching enough without them. Is n't she, Will?" turning to me.
I could not answer. Something in his tone jarred upon me indescribably. Was this the Jim who had said to me once that he could not understand how boys spoke lightly of the wives they would one day have? Was it he who was speaking in this jesting way of the witchery of the girl whom he was to marry? Ally laughed, and her laugh jarred upon me still more.
"No use, brother Jim," she said. "I should go to Black Ledge and get others. Besides, Stonie is coming back to me some day, and he is king."
Ally's child-like unconsciousness of self prevented her seeing what we all saw, that the eyes of the whole assembly were upon her. Her beauty, her remarkable stature, her indescribable charm of voice and smile, awaked the attention of every one and held it spell-bound.
"Ally, my child," at last said Mrs. Allen, "thee must not forget that thee is not at home. There are many strangers here observing us."
Ally was as high-spirited as she was beautiful. The old lamb-like docility had gone with the days of suffering which had created it.
"Why should they observe us? How dare they be so rude?" she said, with her eyes flashing and turning suddenly toward the front of the platform, unconsciously taking in the whole house in her swift glance of resentment, and looking more superb than ever.
"By Jove, Will," exclaimed Jim, in a whisper, "look at the galleries! We 'll have the whole college at her feet to-morrow!" and his face flushed with pride.
"Oh, Jim," said I, "do let us get her away, I can't endure to see them stare at her so."
"Why, you queer old Will," said Jim, "what do you mean! You ought to be just as proud as I. She 's just as much your sister as mine."
"She is n't either your sister or mine, old fellow," said I, "and it 's no place for a girl like her—up on this platform for a mob of men to look at. I 'm going to take her farther back;" and I easily persuaded them all to move into a more retired seat, here we could talk more quietly.
The memory of the next two weeks is to me like the memory of a dream—a dream of a lifetime passed in some fairy land, through whose scenes floated one peerless being, robed in such robes as mortals do not wear. There were evening parties, and there were drives, and there were breakfasts and dinners, and there were days in cars, and days on mountain tops. After the exercises of the Commencement were over, we went to the White Mountains for a week, and then home to the parsonage. It is certain that I moved and spoke through it all like a calm and rational man, for no one wondered or demurred at anything I did; and the atmosphere of all our hours together was one of affectionate and unbroken hilarity; but the best proof of the overwrought state in which I was really living is the fact that when all was over, and I sat down at home to recall the incidents of the journey, I had literally not one single memory of any of the scenes through which I had passed. I had only a series of pictures of Ally, sometimes with a floating background of clouds, and sky, and silence; some times with an equally misty one of the heads and faces and voices of people; but all this, merely as background, frame-work for the one vivid, gleaming picture of Ally in her marvelous attire. Never before was woman so clothed. Her passionate, artistic sense, spent and wrought itself in the fashioning of every garment she wore. She would not allow Jim to send her any gowns except of plain colors, and made in absolute simplicity of style. Then she herself, with silks and flosses of the most exquisite hues, wrought upon each gown its chosen ornament. Embroidery was to her as inevitable an expression as verse to a poet. It was like no other embroidery ever seen, except in some of the rarest Japanese tapestries. How into the heart of this lonely little girl, in Maine, entered the conception of thus repeating and rendering nature, by simple stitches of silk, is one of the secrets of divine births which no common law explains. No one taught her. No one could learn from her. She copied a grass, a flower, a bird, with her needle, rapidly, as another artist might with a pencil. The stitches were strokes of color. That was all. They were long and massive, or they were light and fine, as need was; looked at closely they were meaningless, and seemed chaotic; but at the right distance the picture was perfect,—perfect because copied from nature, with that ineffable blending of accuracy and inspiration which marks the true artist.
One of the gowns she wore was a blue silk,—blue of that pale yet clear tint which summer skies take on at noon of the hottest days. On this were wrought pond lilies, cool, white, fragrant, golden-centred—just a lap full, no more—with a few trailing stems and green glistening pads, reaching to the hem, and falling back to right and left,—one big knot at the throat, and a cluster of buds and coiling stems on the wrist of each sleeve; that was all; but a queen might have been proud to wear the gown. Another was of soft white crape; upon this she had wrought green and amber and silver white grasses, in a trailing wreath, yet hardly defined enough to be a wreath, across the shoulders, to the belt, from the belt carelessly across the front, to the hem, and then around the hem, which lay heavily on the ground. These gowns she had wrought especially to wear for "brother Jim," to do honor to his Commencement Day.
"Did they not take a great deal of time, Ally?" said I. In my ignorance of the great difference between her type of work and ordinary embroidery, I had been sorry and surprised to see such evidences of love of mere ornamentation. I could not understand how Mrs. Allen had permitted it.
Ally laughed a little merry laugh.
"Not half so much time as to hem ruffles, Mr. Will," she said. "I did it at odd minutes."
"Can thee not show him how it is done, Ally, dear?" said Mrs. Allen, very quietly, with a twinkle in her eye.
Ally took the Dominie's white silk handkerchief roguishly from his lap, saying: "I want it to give Mr. Will an embroidery lesson on, papa." Then, sitting down on a low cushion at my feet, she looked up in my face, and as she threaded a large needle with crimson floss, asked:—
"Now, what flower will you have, Mr. Will?"
"A rose, Ally," I said, "if that is not too much trouble."
"Oh no," she said. "That is very easy."
In and out, in and out flew the needle—making long loops at every stitch, as a crayon might make long curves; and in less than ten minutes a perfect, many-leaved crimson rose had blossomed on the silk.
"Now I will show you how easy it is to unmake a rose," she said, smiling, half sadly; "the petals can go almost as quickly as they do in the wind." After a few quick, short snaps of the scissors rosy ends of the floss fluttered to the floor; she pulled out the rest, and held up the handkerchief spotless white again. "That rose has had its day," she said, and fixed her eyes dreamily on the crimson threads on the floor. "It was n't a rose after all; is any rose a rose, Mr. Will?"
Dimly I understood her, but my dull sense groped vainly after the words which should carry my meaning.
"Yes, I know," she went on; "you are one of the people that believe that a rose is a rose. It is so many drachms of so many sorts of chemicals, and that 's the end of it. But brother Jim and I—we don't think so. A rose is a great deal more than a rose; and the rose you see is a great deal less than the rose; and there 's a conundrum for you," she laughed, tossing back the golden curls as if shaking off the sober thought.
"Brother Jim and I." The words sank into my heart. Yes, they two thought alike; they saw into the secrets of the rose. What was I, practical, realistic clodhopper that I was, to dare even to worship this glowing woman, whose soul could so illumine, possess, and interpret nature and life? And another sentence came to my memory at this moment—a sentence which Jim had spoken three years before. "She is all I have got in the world."
"May God do so to me and more also," I said to myself mentally, "if even in my heart I permit myself to long for my brother's wife—"
"Yes, Ally," I said aloud. "I can believe that a rose is a great deal more than a rose; but the rose I see is more than all roses, and there 's a conundrum for you, my sister."
She looked at me for a second with an expression I could not fathom. I had never before called her sister.
"I am not your sister. I am brother Jim's sister," she said half petulantly. "You must n't think I love you as well as I do brother Jim, Mr. Will."
"No danger of that Ally," I said, laughing. "You told me a long time ago that there was n't any same as brother. If you 'll love me half as well as you do brother Jim I 'll be satisfied."
"I remember the day I told you that," replied Ally. "It is very true," and she left the room.
I do not like even now to recall the memory of the first few weeks after I returned home from that fortnight's dream. The world believes that the keenest suffering and deepest joy are known by the idealistic and imaginative temperament. There seems a manifest absurdity in the attempt to compare the emotions of opposite temperaments. How can either measure the other, and shall one man know both? I dissent, however, from the world's verdict on this point. I believe that the idealist enjoys more but suffers less than the realist. The realist accepts his pain as he accepts other things in life, for what it is—actual present hopeless, irremediable. Face to face with the fact of it, he sits down and sees no escape. In the idealist, hope is always large and strong, and a certain joy in the great significant, solemn, undercurrent of life is never absent from him, even when the waters seem going over his head. I am quite sure that no possible future could have looked to either Jim or Ally so like a pall as my future life did to me during these days. Nothing but a strong physique, a certain quality of dogged pride, saved me from succumbing to the sense that life had nothing worth living for. How I cursed my folly in having exposed myself to the suffering! "The child I should have forgotten; the woman I never, never can forget," I groaned to myself daily. I destroyed Ally's picture. I destroyed every note I had of hers except the little bit of paper on which were written in the big childish letters: "If you were here I would kiss you." That I could not destroy. When I bade her good-by she gave me one of the tourmalines from her cross, and this I laughingly promised to wear always as a charm.
"Have a care, Will. There 's more in those stones than you think," said Jim.
Indeed there was. I was distinctly conscious many times of an electric effect produced on my nerves by the stone. I unconsciously acquired the habit of holding it in my hand while I was reading, or whenever I sank into a reverie. Sometimes for days it would not give me any sensation whatever. Then suddenly,—whether from my own physical condition or from the state of the atmosphere, or from some subtle bond between it and its magnetized fellow hanging at Ally's belt, I cannot say,—it would give me sharp shock after shock, would seem, as Ally had said when she was a child, to "purr" in my hand, and would make me "see things " as it used to make her see them. Often, at such times, I would see the interior of the parsonage as vividly as if I were there. I would sink into a sort of clairvoyant trance, out of which I would rouse only by a strong effort of my will, and find myself cold, my hands and feet numb and pricking, and partially paralyzed for a few moments. I firmly believe that many times in these trances I saw as clairvoyants see things which were happening hundreds of miles away. There were many coincidences which I cannot relate here which established this point fully to my own mind, though they might not do so to others.
The hard and dreary days grew into weeks, months, years. Jim was studying at a theological seminary. His tender heart had drawn him strongly to seek some way of helping souls, and he had resolved to become a preacher. The parsonage life was going on placid, beautiful as ever. The Dominie and his wife were slowly nearing harbor, with the radiant light of a glowing sunset illumining their faces. Ally was the central delight and support of their lives. Jim's letters kept me fully informed of all which happened to them as well as to himself. His letters were fuller and fuller of Ally. I could not tell him that such letters gave me pain, neither was I wholly sure that they did me harm. They heightened my consciousness of the indissoluble bond between him and his adopted sister. Ally's genius was fast developing in many ways. Her passion for study was as great as her passionate love of beauty. As no summer could satiate her heart with sunshine and flowers, so no knowledge could satiate her soul. When she was not drinking in nature or reproducing it in the wonderful tapestry-like embroidery, she was absorbed in study.
"Only think, Will!" Jim wrote in one of his letters. "Dominie has begun to teach Ally Hebrew. She begged so hard that he could not refuse her, and Ally says she likes it better than Greek; it is so much grander. Dominie says he has never had a pupil who learns languages as Ally does. She has intuitions about them just as she does about other things, and she never forgets."
Again he wrote: "Ally's flowers grow more and more wonderful. I only wish you could see the panels she has made for the corner cupboards in the sitting-room! You 'd never know the old room. It is a perfect picture-gallery. I brought one of her pieces up to town last week, and the artists all say it is one of the most beautiful things ever seen in America, and entirely unique in its way. One of the fellows made me so angry. 'Why,' said he, 'this young lady could make thousands of dollars if she would put these things in the market. They would command any price for draperies of rooms or panels in doors.' Fancy Ally! I said very coldly that luckily this young lady was in no need of earning money, and the man had the impudence to say that it was not luckily at all; that art would be advanced if such works were known. I wanted to say to him that art was advanced whenever one true and beautiful thing was done, whether it ever came into what he called his market or not,—whether it were ever seen by any other eyes than the artist's or not. I 've a notion that art is only one form of truth, and that laws of growth of truth are as sure and steadfast as the laws of growth of a crystal. I reckon the tourmalines in Black Ledge never stop growing one second from the day they began, whether we are to find them to-day, or our children's grandchildren are to find them a hundred years hence. But I did 'nt argue with the fellow. He paints great pictures of Western territories, a county or two at a time, warranted to fit the largest dining-rooms, and gets thirty thousand dollars apiece for them. What 's the use of telling him that my darling's pansies and fox-gloves on a bit of white crape set in an old mahogany door in a Maine parsonage are dearer to the heart of the God of Art, and really a higher water mark in the Art Record, than all his acres of canvas?"
It was not only that Jim's letters grew fuller and fuller of Ally. They grew fuller and fuller of expressions of fondness for her, of delight in her. While these maddened me, they also slowly awoke in my heart a feeling akin to scorn of Jim's love.
"He speaks of her as his darling to a third person," I said to myself. I could as soon hold up one of her golden curls to passers-by in the street and say, "Look at this for a color, my masters!" I was bitterly unjust to Jim in these days. Forgive me, my brother, forgive me.
It was near the end of the third year that I took from the post-office one day a letter addressed in Jim's handwriting. As I put it in my pocket I touched the tourmaline swinging from my chain, and felt a sharp electric thrill. I took the stone in my hand and fancied that it was warm. The electric pricking was stronger than I had felt it for months. "The letter is full of Ally, I suppose," I said to myself, and I went to my own room to read it. I fully expected that the letter was to tell me of their approaching marriage.
Like a man stunned, blinded, I groped my way through these opening sentences:—
"Dear Will,—I have something to tell you which will surprise you very much. I have made up my mind to go out to India as a missionary. This is no new idea. I have been thinking of it for months, but I thought it best, and kindest too, to say nothing of the plan until my resolution was fully taken. I have had for a long time a growing and unconquerable instinct that this was my proper work and my proper field for work. Of course you know me well enough to know that I have no intention of going out as the delegate, employee, or representative of any sect or any organization. I shall go independently, and after I get there I shall work as I see fit, just as I might in any city or town here My fortune will enable me to do this, thank Heaven, and to give material as well as spiritual help to the people over whom my heart so strongly yearns. The good missionaries in India will, no doubt, call me a Buddhist, and include me in their labors. But perhaps I can love them into liking me enough to let me alone."
Here I threw the letter down. I could read no more. I buried my face in my hands. "Oh, my God!" I said, "to take that glorious girl to India, to kill her, body and soul!"
Whenever I had dared to picture to myself Ally's future as a wife, it had always been as the centre of a perfect home, surrounded by all that her rich nature craved and could use of beauty, of culture, of luxury. I had fancied the whole world itself laid under tribute for her growth, her joy, as I myself would have laid it had I won her love. Only too well I knew the uselessness of attempting to influence Jim when one of his sentiments had suddenly become a conviction and crystallized into a purpose.
"It is no use," I grieved. "He has taken India just as he took Ally—into his very heart of hearts. No earthly power could have moved him or can now."
I picked the letter up and read on.
"I have made all my arrangements to go in a month. Good-byes are hard, even when one has so few to say as I have. The sooner they are over the better. I have but one anxiety in going. Of course you know what that is. It has been so great that it has many times brought me to the verge of abandoning my purpose. It is the leaving Ally, my dear, sweet, darling sister. But she has a father and a mother, and may I not say, dear Will, a brother? I have settled on her unreservedly half of my fortune, and dear old Guardy is to take care of it for her as he always had for me."
Mechanically I folded the letter. Mechanically, but with breathless rapidity, I moved about my room, making all my arrangements for going to Jim by the next train, which would start in a few minutes. I had but one distinct consciousness in my brain; it whirled back and forth, and back and forth, in the one question: If Jim could leave Ally like this, had he loved her as I thought? I must know.
A day and a night and a day I rode with that question, in a million shapes, mocking, comforting, racking my soul. When I stood face to face with Jim, in answer to his alarmed and eager "Why, Will, Will, what has brought you? Are you in trouble?" all I could do was to gasp out slowly, syllable by syllable, the same question,—
"Jim, if you love Ally, how can you leave her so?"
My face more than the words told him the whole story.
"Oh, my Will, my Will!" he said, putting his hands on my shoulders, and standing so closely breast to breast with me that his breath was warm on my cheek. "I never once thought of Ally as a wife, never! God be praised that you love her. Oh, my grand old boy, how did you ever torture yourself so for nothing?" he burst out, impatiently, throwing one arm around my neck in our old boyish fashion.
I had not slept, I had scarcely eaten, for seventy hours. I staggered and reeled, and Jim caught me in his arms. I felt that I looked up in his face helplessly, as a woman might. For one brief moment in our lives, he was the stronger man. He gave me wine, and tried to persuade me to rest, To all his persuasions I had but one answer,—
"I must go to Ally. There is no rest for me till I know."
It was a marvelous thing how strong a hope had sprung into instantaneous life in my heart. I had no shadow of reason to believe that Ally loved me. Yet I believed it.
"I will come back to you, Jim; I will come back at once," I said, "but you must let me go. It is of no use to try to stop me."
He proposed to go with me. I was too overwrought to consider the cruelty of my words, and I exclaimed:—
"Not for worlds!"
It seemed to me at that moment that to have seen Ally meet us, and throw her arms around her "brother Jim," before I knew that he was to her a brother as she was to him a sister, would have made of me a Cain.
Jim's nature was too thoroughly sweet for resentment!
"You are right, my dear fellow," he answered, "I should only be in the way."
Again I rode a day and a night and a day in the ceaseless din of the cars, with one question whirling back and forth and back and forth in my restless brain. The spring was just opening. All through New England's lovely meadows the apple-trees were rosy pink and white. The sweet bridal colors flashed past my eyes, mile after mile, in significant beauty; my life, too, had had a long winter; I felt the thrill of its coming spring.
It was near sunset when I reached the town now so dear, which had looked so dismal and wretched to me when I first saw it six years before. I walked slowly toward the parsonage. For the first time since I left Jim's rooms, a misgiving forced itself upon me, whether I had done wisely in coming unannounced, and I dreaded the first moment of meeting. I need not have done so. It was true and right I should lose no second's time in hasting to Ally; and the right always arranges itself. A few rods from the parsonage was a clump of tall firs. I paused behind these and gazed earnestly at the house. "Oh," I thought, "if Ally would only come out!" Involuntarily I laid my hand on the tourmaline, and recalled Ally's childish fancies about her "Stonie." The crystal was highly electric at that moment, and I felt a sharp shock. At that second the door of the house opened, and Ally—my Ally—stood on the threshold.
She wore a white gown, and had a dark purple scarf thrown over her shoulders. She looked up and down the road as if expecting some one,—then sat down on the door-step and leaned her head against the wall, as she had done the morning Jim and I had ridden away on the stage six years ago. The clusters of purple lilac blossoms seemed now, as they did then, to caress her golden curls—curls as golden to-day as then. I was hidden from her sight by the firs. I watched her for some moments. She sat motionless; I could see that she held in her fingers something swinging from her belt. "Why does not the tourmaline tell her I am here?" I thought, and I laid my hand on my own crystal, as I walked toward the house.
She rose slowly, looked earnestly toward me, and then came with hesitating steps down the walk. The almond flowers shook down a cloud of rosy petals at the floating touch of her gown. I reached the gate first, folded my arms on its upper bar, and waited. She came toward me with her lips parted in a smile such as I never saw on her face before—such as I shall never see again, unless God takes her first to heaven, to wait my coming there. No trace of surprise—no shade or strangeness was on her countenance.
"I thought you were coming to-night, Mr. Will," she said, as simply as she would have said it six years before.
"Oh, Ally, how could you know!" I exclaimed.
"The same old way," she replied, smiling, but still with a certain solemnity in the smile, and touching the tourmaline which swung at her belt. "I half saw you, Mr. Will. I am all alone in the house. Mother and father have gone to the prayer-meeting. But I can be glad enough for three till they come home."
"Can you be glad enough for the fourth, Ally?" said I.
She looked at me perplexedly.
"Oh, Ally—Ally," I exclaimed in a tone which needed no syllables further to convey its meaning.
She did not tremble nor flush—she gazed steadily into my eyes, as if reading my inmost soul. Her look was not one of gladness—it was of unutterable solemnity. We had reached the doorstep. The lilac trees waved above our heads, and the strong, sweet odor of the blossoms seemed to wrap us as in a fragrant cloud. Still her bright, fearless, loving, child-like, woman-full eyes gazed steadily into mine, and she did not speak. I could not.
I put in her hand the little worn bit of paper which had lain on my heart for five years. She unfolded it and read her own childish words:—
"If you were here I would kiss you, Mr. Will."
A faint rosy color mounted to her temples—to her golden hair; the look of solemn, earnest seeking deepened on her face, but into it there came a tenderness, an ineffable love, and, lifting her face to mine, she repeated in a low whisper the dear old childish words:—
"Shall I kiss you, Mr. Will?"—
An hour later the bent figures of the beloved Dominie and his wife came slowly up the path under the firs. Arm in arm, with an unconscious and touching revelation of tenderness in their clinging hold on each other, they paused under the trees and looked up at the stars.
"Let us go and meet them, Ally," I said.
Hand in hand we walked swiftly toward them. When they first saw us they stopped in surprise for a second, then hurried on with ejaculations of joy and wonder. Mrs. Allen's clear-visioned eyes saw all in the first moment of our meeting.
"Oh, my children!" she exclaimed, and even in the twilight I saw tears of gladness in her eyes. "Husband, husband," she continued, "they love each other."
Dear Dominie's slower sense but dimly comprehended her meaning. As he looked into our faces it grew clear to him, and, lifting up both his hands, he blessed us. Then Ally left me and clung to her father's arm, and we walked slowly homeward. Mrs. Allen and I lingered at the door.
"I used to hope for this," she said, "in the first months of our knowing thee. Thee has the temperament which our child requires. My great fear for her has been that she would love some man of an organization similar to her own. It is the danger of women of her temperament and mine, but I have learned that the great need of such a temperament is a trustful sense of rest, of calm tenderness, and the tendency to restrain rather than to stimulate the nervous life. Thee will do my child good as well as make her happy, just as my beloved husband has done for me."
"God bless you, mother, for saying this!" I exclaimed. "Do you not really think there is danger of my being a clog to Ally? I feel so utterly unable even to comprehend her sometimes. I only know that I worship her."
"Undoubtedly thee will be a clog, as thee terms it, on a part of her nature, but it is a part which needs to be held down," replied the sweet, low, wise voice. "Thy tenderness will perpetually calm her unrest, thy practical wisdom will direct her swift fancy, and it will not be long before thee will smile to think that thee ever said thee could not comprehend her; and she will create in every hour of thy existence a new life of which thee has never so much as dreamed."
When I entered the sitting-room I started back, exclaiming: "Good heavens! what room is this?" Jim had told me often of the transformations that Ally's art had wrought in the room, but I was unprepared for it. I gazed from wall to wall in bewilderment. Ally stood by delightedly, saying:—
"Is it nice? Do you like it? We do, but nobody else who knows has seen it except brother Jim, and he thinks it is lovely because I did it, and if it were hideous he would think so all the same. The village people, some of them, say it is 'heathenish,' and when I told them that I was glad of it; that the people they called heathens knew a great deal more than we did, they looked at me as if they thought I was crazy."
"I wish thee had more patience with such ignorance, my daughter," said Mrs. Allen, quickly. "Thee could teach them what true beauty is, if thee would."
Ally shook her head impatiently.
"It would n't be of any use, mother dear. Nobody was ever taught what beauty is by being told. It 's just like my telling you it is warm by the thermometer when you are shivering. You don't mind a bit about my telling you it is over seventy degrees."
The Dominie laughed heartily at this sally. The one sole discomfort in the parsonage winter life was dear Mrs. Allen's need of a higher temperature than the Dominie's and Ally's more robust blood could endure.
"Nobody learns beauty," Ally went on. "You feel it in one second, if you ever can. If this room is beautiful, there will now and then come into it people who will see what it is, and they will be the better for it. It only hurts and hardens the others to tell them they ought to like it. And, as for explaining why a thing is beautiful, you can't. There is n't any why."
The room was indeed beautiful. Across three of the corners had been fitted book-shelves with doors of mahogany. The wood had been brought to the town by an old sea captain. He had brought it from Brazil, and it had lain a quarter of a century, waiting for him to grow rich enough to build a house. Before that time came he died, and the mahogany boards went to auction, with old sea chests and other rubbish. Dusty and unplaned as they were, the rich, dark wine-colored planks caught Ally's eye, and she had bought them herself, to the Dominie's great amusement. The doors were finished in long, narrow panels with a single molding. In the centre of each was framed one of Ally's flower-pieces; in one, purple pansies on white ground; in another, pale, shadowy white foxglove blossoms, in a cream-colored jar on a dark claret ground; and in the third, amber and green and dark-red grasses on a light-blue ground. In the fourth corner stood the abutilon-trees, now grown to the ceiling, and branching wide like lilac bushes. A mantel-shelf and several brackets had been cut simply of the same mahogany, and along their front edges were set, like tiles, bands of the same flower embroidery, or of fantastic patterns like mosaics, Cornices of the same were at the windows. The cornices were all of one pattern—mingled woodbine sprays of deep crimson on light blue. These were the most beautiful things in the room.
"That 's the way our woodbine branches look in November, blowing between your eyes and the blue sky," said Ally, eagerly, as I was studying them and wondering how the combination could be so daring and seem so simple. The effect of all this dark mahogany was heightened by a pale uniform gray tint on the walls and in the carpet. There was no bright color on the floor except in the rug before the fire. The rug was of heavy gray felt. In one corner were two palm-trees, with gorgeous blue and red parrots swinging from their branches, the palm-trees copied truly from a photograph of a palm, and not looking in the least like the tall, flattened feather dusters which are the conventional rendering of the theoretical palm-tree. A mahogany easel stood in front of the abutilon-tree, and on this was a superb photograph of the Venus of Milo. The pure white statue gleamed out among the rich dark colorings about it. The furniture was covered with crimson and blue chintz, and the curtains were of a creamy white, of some curious filigreed Indian material, which had come from the treasures of the same old sea captain who had unwittingly brought all the way from the Brazil forests the settings for Ally's pictures.
"I hope the old man sees his mahogany now, said Ally, dreamily, "and I think he does. I often feel conscious of him, and in very hot days the wood purrs sometimes a little as my crystals do. They are of kin."
"Oh, Ally, what a room! what a room!" I exclaimed. It was all I could say. The vivid, intense personality of the room overpowered me. It seemed strange that they could all be living a quiet every-day life in such surroundings.
"I 'd love just to make a whole house like it," said Ally, sighing. The bareness of the parsonage was a grief to her; her artistic sense demanded harmony throughout.
"You shall, my Ally," I whispered, and forgetting that we were not alone, I folded her in my arms.
There is but a brief story left to tell of Ally's life and mine. I mean that the story which I shall tell is brief. When happiness begins, history stops. There is, however, in "Stonie's" life one more incident which belongs rightfully to the readers of this story. Ally and I were married before that year's apple blossoms had all fallen. There was no reason why we should wait; and Jim had made his one last request of us, that we would go with him to Europe on his way to India. Very earnestly he begged the Dominie and Mrs. Allen to go with us; but the old lovers refused.
"We are too old," they said. "The cities of this world do not draw us as they did. We expect very soon to see a fairer one."
They were right! God rest their souls! They died within one week of each other, in less than a year from the day of Ally's marriage.
Mrs. Allen died first. The Dominie died apparently of the same disease, but we who knew, knew that he died of her death.
Our first Christmas day was spent in Vienna. We lodged there with a queer old Professor whom Jim had met on a trip in the Austrian Tyrol. He was not poor, but spent all his money in making botanical and geological collections, to the displeasure of his wife, who had at last resolved to take lodgers as an offset for her husband's scientific extravagances.
"He will us ruin, mine Franz," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "He will, to sell the clothes off his back for one small stone; and it is not that one can eat and drink from stones!" But for all that Frau Scherkle was very fond of her Professor, and told us always when he was asked to dine at great houses, "because that he so much do know, they do not care for his so shabby coat."
As we were sitting at dinner on Christmas day, Professor Franz burst into the room unannounced, in a state of great excitement.
"Come, come all," he exclaimed. "Come this minute to the Museum. There are stones from your country, like the stones the beautiful madame wears at her belt. They are unpacking the casket now. Come, come! The dinner is no matter."
Ally turned pale. I observed that she clasped her tourmaline cross in her right hand as she rose from the table.
"Let us go at once," she said, and in a few moments we were in the street, hurrying to keep up with the little Professor, who ran before us. "It is Stonie, Will," said Ally, in a low tone to me. "You need not laugh, I know it is."
Prof. Scherkle had admittance to all parts of the Museum. He led us to a large basement room, where we found workmen busily engaged in unpacking boxes of minerals. Those which had already been taken out were arranged upon a table in the centre of the room.
Ally walked swiftly to the table and pointed directly to a small red box.
There, in a cotton-lined compartment, alone by itself, transparent, flawless, rose red and vivid green, lay "Stonie!" We, who had known the stone so well, could never mistake it. There were other tourmalines in the box; all of them looked like ours; but of none of them could we be sure, except Stonie. It was the only one which had both terminations complete. It was the only one which had the layer of solid white, the "crown."
"King still," was all that Ally said. She was moved to her heart's depths.
We were all deeply stirred at this mysterious incident. All that we could learn from the persons in charge was, that these minerals had been bought by the Austrian Government in Holland. They had belonged to the antiquary Van der Null; and this box of tourmalines was labeled simply "from America."
"Could any of the stones be bought?" we asked.
"Nothing was less likely," we were told. "The Imperial Museum did not trade."
"Oh, Will, I can't leave Stonie," pleaded Ally.
"You shall have him, love, if I can buy him and have money enough left to take care of you with," whispered I.
What I paid to the illustrious Government of Austria to buy back our own tourmaline I would rather not tell. However, the sum, though large for me, was small to them, and I know very well the stone was not bought so much by money as by Ally's eyes, and by the sweet voice and looks with which she told the whole story to the Baron Roederer, who introduced me to his cousin, the director of the Museum.
Stonie is very safe now; he is locked up every night in a tiny jewel-box, which is also of tourmaline, and has a bit of history of its own. It is an exquisite thing, made of thin layers of amber and yellow tourmaline, fastened at the corners by curious gold clamps, with serpents heads. Jim sent it to Ally on the anniversary of our wedding day. In the letter accompanying it he wrote:—
"I send you a magic box to keep Stonie in. It also is tourmaline. You see I can't escape the mineral any more than you. Ceylon is full of them. This box was made by my most devoted lover and convert, Phaya Si Zai. He sat on the veranda of my cottage every day last week, tinkering away on it. That is the way the native jewelers do here. They bring their little furnaces and tools, squat on your veranda, and make your jewelry under your eye. Phaya will not take a cent for making this box, though it has cost him six days' work. The chasing, you will see, is very finely done. He has seen your picture hanging in my room, and when I showed him the stones and asked him if a box could be made of them for the pretty lady with gold hair, he said, eagerly: 'Yes, yes. Me make, me make.' When he brought it to me just now he said: 'Lady of gold hair—this—Phaya kiss the hands—stones make lady see Phaya; see good brother.' So you see even the Ceylonese know the spell of the tourmaline."
Our little girl seems to have the same love for and relation with the stones that her mother had. She will play with them for hours, as Ally did when she lay in her little bed, under the abutilon-tree, in the parsonage parlor. The child's name is Alice; but I have fallen into the way of calling her "Tourmie," and strangers stare when they ask what that means, and I reply: "Short for Tourmaline."